Klinkenborg was raised on an Iowa farm belonging to his family. He attended elementary school in Clarion, Iowa until the 6th grade at which time the family moved to Osage, Iowa. His family next moved to Sacramento, California after which he attended the University of California at Berkeley before transferring to Pomona College. He graduated from Pomona College, and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University.
Klinkenborg taught literature and creative writing at Fordham University while living in the Bronx in the early to mid-1980s, and later at St. Olaf College, Bennington College, Sarah Lawrence College, Bard College, and Harvard University. In 1991 he received the Lila Wallace–Reader's Digest Writer's Award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. He currently teaches creative writing at Yale University and lives on a small farm in upstate New York.
His book Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile concerns the tortoise which the English eighteenth century parson-naturalist Gilbert White inherited from his aunt, as described in his 1789 book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. In the first half of 2006, Klinkenborg posted a farm and garden blog about The Rural Life, consisting of entries from the daily journal kept by Gilbert White in Selborne in 1784, and his own complementary daily entries.
He has written a series of editorial opinions in The New York Times; these are generally literary meditations on rural farm life. On December 26, 2013, he announced in that column that it was to be the last he would be writing in that space.
He was the 2006-2007 visiting writer-in-residence at Pomona College, where he taught nonfiction writing. In 2007, he received a Guggenheim fellowship, which funded his book The Mermaids of Lapland, about William Cobbett. In 2012 he published “Several Short Sentences About Writing”.
|Year||Review article||Work(s) reviewed|
|2018||Klinkenborg, Verlyn (February 22, 2018). "A horse is a horse, of course". The New York Review of Books. 65 (3): 46–47.||Raulff, Ulrich. Farewell to the horse : a cultural history. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. Liveright.|