Clewell was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1955 and attended Highland Park High School, in nearby Highland Park, where he first developed an interest in poetry. He graduated from University of Wisconsin with a B.A. in English. In 1979, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri and earned an M.F.A. in writing from Washington University. In 1985, Clewell began teaching in the English Department at Webster University. A year later, he started the Webster University Visiting Writers Series, which he still coordinated until his death.
As an instructor at Webster University, Clewell taught courses on 19th- and 20th-century literature, as well as poetry workshops and seminars. In 2010, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon noted that Clewell "has a unique perspective on contemporary American life and the characters and ideas that loom large in our recent history."
Clewell is the author of 10 poetry collections and his work has appeared in over 50 journals and magazines, including Harper's, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, The Georgia Review, Ontario Review, New Letters, and Yankee. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for poetry seven times.
- Pollak Poetry Prize for Now We're Getting Somewhere
- Lavan Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets
- 1989 National Poetry Series, for Blessings in Disguise
- 2017 Lifetime Achievement in the Arts from the Webster Groves (MO) Arts Commission
- Room to Breathe. Pentagram Press. 1976. ISBN 978-0-915316-30-4.
- Blessings in Disguise. Penguin Books. 1991. ISBN 978-0-14-058672-5.
- Now We're Getting Somewhere. University of Wisconsin Press. 1994. ISBN 978-0-299-14414-2.
- The conspiracy quartet. Garlic Press. 1997. ISBN 978-0-9643009-2-7.
- Jack Ruby's America. Garlic Press. 2000. ISBN 978-0-9643009-3-4.
- The Low End of Higher Things. University of Wisconsin Press. 2003. ISBN 978-0-299-18574-9.
- Taken Somehow By Surprise. University of Wisconsin Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0-299251-14-7.
- Naomi Shihab Nye; Paul B. Janeczko, eds. (1999). "Goodbye Note to Debbie Fuller: Pass It On". I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You: Paired Poems by Men & Women. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-689-81341-2.
- Laure-Anne Bosselaar, ed. (1999). Outsiders: poems about rebels, exiles, and renegades. Milkweed Editions. ISBN 978-1-57131-409-3.
- Billy Collins, ed. (2003). Poetry 180: a turning back to poetry. Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-8129-6887-3.
- Jack Elliott Myers; Roger Weingarten, eds. (2005). New American poets. David R. Godine Publisher. ISBN 978-1-56792-302-5.
- "Remembering David Clewell: Missouri Poet Laureate and Honored Professor". Webster University. February 16, 2020. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
- "David Clewell: Poet Laureate of Missouri" (2011). Webster University News and Events. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
- "About David Clewell" (2010). StlToday.com. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
- "Interview with Former Poet Laureate of Missouri, David Clewell", Geosi Reads, October 16, 2016. Accessed February 7, 2020. "Shortly after the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, Bob Stephens read every word of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience out loud to his 8 a.m. Freshman English class at Highland Park High because he honestly believed that words, used well, had the power to change lives. Small wonder, then, that he was the person to show me the first poems I actually cared about in mine."
- "Gov. Nixon appoints David Clewell Poet Laureate of Missouri" Archived 2011-10-05 at the Wayback Machine (2010). Office of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
- "Faculty" Archived 2010-08-10 at the Wayback Machine (n.d.). Webster University English Department. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
- "Clewell, David (1955-)" (1994). Harper's Magazine.
- Table of contents. Poetry Magazine (August 1992).
- Table of contents. Poetry Magazine (March 2000).
- "David Clewell" Archived 2010-08-23 at the Wayback Machine (n.d.). The Missouri Review online.
- "David Clewell honored for lifetime achievement by Webster Groves Arts Commission". Retrieved October 16, 2018.