He attended the "Ion Luca Caragiale" High School in Bucharest, taking his diploma in 1952. He was offered a Fulbright grant and defected to the United States in 1973. After his retirement he became an Emeritus Professor at Indiana University. He lived with his wife in Bloomington, Indiana.
Matei Călinescu, Eugène Ionesco: Teme identitare şi existenţiale (Eugène Ionesco: Identity and Existential Themes) Iaşi: Junimea, 2006, 491 p, Awarded the Writers' Union Prize for Eassay and Criticism, 2006.
Matei Călinescu, Ionesco: Recherches identitaires, Paris: Oxus, 2005, 348 p.
Matei Călinescu, Un fel de jurnal, 1973–1981 (A Diary of Sorts, 1973–1981), Iaşi: Polirom, 2005.
Matei Călinescu, Ion Vianu, Amintiri în dialog (Memories in Dialogue), Bucharest: Editura Litera, 1994; 2nd ed. with preface and two new chapters included as an Epilogue, Iaşi: Polirom, 1998; 3rd edition, Iaşi: Polirom, 2005.
Matei Călinescu, Tu: Elegii şi invenţii (You: Elegies and Inventions, poems), Iaşi: Polirom, 2004.
Matei Călinescu, Faces of Modernity: Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Indiana University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-253-32087-9
Matei Călinescu, Selections of Poetry translated into English in Mundus Artium, 1976, New Letters, 1976, Seneca Review, 1981, Correspondences, 1982, and 2 PLUS 2, 1983.
Matei Călinescu, Umbre de apă, poeme, (Water Shadows, poems), Bucharest: Editura Cartea Românescǎ, 1972.
Matei Călinescu, Versuri (Lines), Bucharest: Editura Eminescu, 1970.
Matei Călinescu, Viaţa şi opiniile lui Zacharias Lichter (The Life & Opinions of Zacharias Lichter) a short novel, Bucharest: Editura Pentru Literaturǎ, 1969, awarded the Romanian Writers' Union Prize for Fiction, 1969, translated into Hungarian, 1971, Polish, 1972, and French excerpts in Cahiers de l'Est, 1, 2, 1975; 2nd ed., enlarged, Bucharest: Editura Eminescu, 1971; 3rd ed., with new preface, 1995, Iaşi: Polirom, 1995; 4th edition, Iaşi: Polirom, 2004.