Dobyns was raised in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He was educated at Shimer College, graduated from Wayne State University, and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1967. He has worked as a reporter for the Detroit News.
He has taught at various academic institutions, including Sarah Lawrence College, the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers, the University of Iowa, Syracuse University, and Boston University.
In much of his poetry and some works of non-genre fiction, Dobyns employs extended tropes, using the ridiculous and the absurd as vehicles to introduce more profound meditations on life, love, and art. He shies neither from the low nor from the sublime, and all in a straightforward narrative voice of reason. His journalistic training has strongly informed this voice.