Salvatore Quasimodo was born of Sicilian parents in Modica, near Syracuse, in 1901. Interested in becoming an engineer, he enrolled at the Politecnico in Rome, also studying Latin and Greek at the University there, but did not complete his studies. He obtained a position with the Italian government's civil engineering corps, and in 1930 saw the publication of three poems in the avant-garde magazine Solaria, and then his first full-length collection, Acque e terre (Waters and Lands). Two years later, his second collection, Òboe sommerso (Sunken Oboe) appeared.
In 1938, he left his government position and became editor of the weekly magazine, Tempo; three years later he was appointed to the Chair of Italian Literature at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan. An outspoken anti-Fascist during the Second World War, and for a while a member of the Communist Party, he published three collections during the 1940s: Nuove Poesie (New Poems), 1942; Giorno dopogiorno (Day after Day), 1946, and La vita non è sogno (Life Is Not a Dream), 1949. He also became known as a translator — of the Greek and Roman lyric and epic poets (Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, Ovid and Virgil among them), Shakespeare, Molière and twentieth-century writers such as Neruda and e.e. cummings.
Quasimodo was awarded the Etna-Taormina International Prize in Poetry along with Dylan Thomas in 1953 and, in 1959, the Nobel Prize for literature — "for his lyrical poetry, which with classical fire expresses the tragic experience of life in our own times". His last book of verse was Dare e avere (To Give and To Have), 1966. Quasimodo died in Naples on 14 June 1968