Barry MacSweeney was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. He worked as a professional journalist throughout most of his life. He met poet Basil Bunting when they were both working at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle in the mid-1960s, and formed part of a local group of poets including Tom Pickard, Jon Silkin and Jeremy Prynne. He taught journalism and tutored in creative writing in the 1970s and worked as voluntary tutor in adult literacy in Newcastle in the late 1980s. Alcoholism, which he struggled with "from the age of sixteen" and related ill health led to his death in May 2000.