Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Schmidt studied at Harvard and at Wadham College, Oxford University. He was Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University until 2014, and from 2012 to 2015 he was Writer in Residence at St. John's College, Cambridge. He is founder (1969) and editorial and managing director of Carcanet Press and a founder (1973) and general editor of PN Review. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he received an OBE in 2006 for services to poetry. His literary career has been described as having "a strong sense of internationalism and cultural ‘connectedness’". Schmidt refers to himself in his book Lives of the Poets as "an Anglophone Mexican publisher".
Schmidt's 2014 book The Novel: A Biography is a loosely chronological history of the development of the novel. The book aims to explore the relationships between great novelists, including views by other novelists while avoiding literary critics who were not also writers.
It Was My Tree (Anvil, 1970)
Bedlam and the Oak Wood (Carcanet, 1970)
Desert of the Lions (Carcanet, 1972)
My Brother Gloucester (Carcanet, 1976)
A Change of Affairs (Anvil, 1978)
The Love of Strangers - Poetry Book Society Special Commendation (Century Hutchinson, 1989)
Selected Poems, 1972-1997 - Poetry Book Society Special Commendation (Smith/Doorstop, 1997)
The Resurrection of the Body (USA: Sheep Meadow; Smith/Doorstop, 2007)