He was educated at Nebraska Wesleyan University (B.A., 1994), Texas Tech University (M.A., 1996), the University of Virginia (M.F.A., 1999), and the University of Iowa (Ph.D., 2007). He has been hailed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune as a "marvelous poet" and by The Times Literary Supplement as a "tenacious scholar." His essays and poetry have appeared in The Atlantic, Harper's, The New Republic, Outside, Poetry, and the Washington Post Book World. He is the author of two books of poems and the literary history Walt Whitman and the Civil War, which, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote, "fills in a major gap in previous biographies of Whitman and rebuts the canard that Whitman was unaffected by the war and the run-up to it." His book Canned: The Great Recession and America's Strange Love Affair with Spam is forthcoming from HarperCollins. His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and inclusion in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Travel Writing. He was editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review from 2003 to 2012, during which time the magazine won six National Magazine Awards.
In 2004, librarian Alan Cordle launched the anonymous website Foetry.com, intended to reveal corruption in poetry publishing. The following year, when Cordle was unmasked, Genoways co-authored an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education agreeing that poetry contests were in need of reform but cautioned: "Foetry's charges are leveled carelessly and with no acceptable standards of proof; its methods are wrongheaded and dangerous. They divert attention from the merits of the poetry in question, and they give license to its contributors to speculate openly and without accountability on the private lives and alleged public transgressions of writers, judges, and editors." Subsequently, Genoways was appointed to a panel that drafted the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses code of ethics.
In May 2009, Louisiana State University President Michael Martin announced the closure of LSU Press and the Southern Review. In response, Genoways published "The Future of University Presses and Journals (A Manifesto)" and told the Associated Press that LSU needed to decide: "Do you want to be known as some place that supports the history and culture of your region or some place that has fantastic outside linebackers?" Martin responded that athletics subsidize some academic programs. "In some respects," Martin said, "the press has been saved by the outside linebackers—up to this point." Days later, Ronald D. Liebowitz, the president of Middlebury College, announced the closure of New England Review, prompting Genoways to publish "Whose Woods Are These?" In September 2009, Northwestern University announced the immediate termination of the editorial staff of its literary journal TriQuarterly and the reformulation of the magazine as a student-run, online publication. "The shuttering of TriQuarterly and termination of its editorial posts is troubling for a couple of reasons," Genoways told The Chronicle of Higher Education in an e-mail. "First, it's a disturbing continuation of a trend begun this spring with the New England Review and Southern Review. It suggests eroding support for literature from our colleges and universities. Second, it's more than a little creepy to see Northwestern describe the dismantling of a major literary institution as a 'reaffirmation' of the university's commitment to publishing. This is the kind of Orwellian doublespeak I'd expect from Dick Cheney, not a university of Northwestern's caliber."
In January 2010, Genoways published "The Death of Fiction?" in Mother Jones. "Once strongholds of literature and learned discussion in our country, university-based quarterlies have seen steadily declining subscriber bases since their heyday a half-century ago—and an even greater dent in their cultural relevance," Genoways wrote. "All of which has left too many university presidents, already in search of cuts for short-term gain, eyeing their presses and literary magazines and wondering who will miss them if they're gone." The article was reprinted in Colombia's El Malpensante and sparked a series of mostly supportive editorials in Australia in journals such as Harvest and Overland. In the United States, however, most responses defended universities and their MFA programs in creative writing. Steve Almond wrote in The Rumpus: "It seems to me the rise of MFA programs is mostly about people going in search of themselves, people who feel the emptiness of our historical moment, who feel unmoored from family, adrift in a sea of marketing, who seek to find a cure in storytelling. Are some of us needy, entitled narcissists who are in it for the wrong reasons? Yeah." Jay Baron Nicorvo, of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, wrote: "If fiction is indeed faltering, the university system isn’t at fault, nor are the navel-gazing writers who come out of it."