He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and educated at Yale University. He founded the Saturday Review of Literature in 1924 and continued to edit and write for it until his death.
Benet's second (of four) wives was the American poet Elinor Wylie.
In 1942 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book of autobiographical verse, The Dust Which Is God (1941).
He is also the author of The Reader's Encyclopedia, considered the standard American guide to world literature.