Offen lived most of his life in Chicago and worked as an insurance investigator, editor, freelance writer, and theater producer.
With R.R. Cuscaden, Offen was the co-editor of Mainstream: A quarterly journal of poetry (1957), an early publisher of Richard Brautigan. Offen and Cuscaden were also co-editors of Odyssey: Explorations in contemporary poetry and the arts (1958–59), which published the early work of Charles Bukowski, LeRoi Jones, David Ray, and others.
Offen was a reviewer and executive editor of Chicago Literary Times (1962-1965), poetry editor of December (circa 1970-1972), and “Poetry Beat” columnist for the Chicago Daily News (1974-1975). From 1970 to 1977, he was a book reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times and a drama critic for Chicago's weekly newspaper, Skyline, and also worked in the Poets-in-the Schools program sponsored by the Illinois Arts Council.
In the 1970s he co-authored Dillinger: Dead or alive? with Jay Robert Nash, and wrote Cagney and Brando. In 1975 Offen and his second wife, Rosine (1930–2000), an Actors’ Equity actress and director, formed the theater company, The Peripatetic Task Force. He was the executive producer of this company, which produced avant-garde and original plays. He was also instrumental in creating Gangway Playhouse in Chicago, a summer outdoor free children’s theater. The company’s production of Jack Stokes’s Wiley and The Hairy Man at Gangway Playhouse won a special Joseph Jefferson Award in 1977 for children’s theater.
His drama, Fourplay, was produced in 1977 at the Barry Street Theater in Chicago, and his radio play, The Last Celebration, was aired on Chicago radio stations WFMT-FM by National Radio Theater, WNIB-FM, and WHPK-FM.
Offen’s poetry appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Epoch, 5AM, The Ledge, Margie, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, RATTLE, Rhino, The Salmon (Ireland), Zyzzyva, and numerous other journals. He was interviewed about his poetry by Studs Terkel on WFMT-FM and more recently by Judith Valente of National Public Radio on WBEZ-FM (Chicago).
In 1989 he founded Free Lunch, which published such renowned poets as Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, Stuart Dybek, Donald Hall, X.J. Kennedy, Lisel Mueller, Robert Peters,and David Wagoner. In autumn 2009 after 42 issues Free Lunch ceased publication.
Offen lived in Glenview, Illinois with his 3rd wife, Beverly.
His 4th book of poems, God’s Haircut, and other remembered dreams, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
He was named a “Top Dog” in Chicago Poetry by Chicago Poetry Press for his 5th book of poems, Off-Target. He received a 1st prize from the Academy of American Poets and from the University of Chicago, and a 1st prize for poetry from the Chicago Poets and Writers Foundation.
In spring 2010, Rhino granted him its inaugural Paladin Award for "extraordinary long-term contributions to the quality and progress of poetry in Illinois."
The Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies (CEERES) at the University of Chicago awards an annual Ron Offen Poetry Prize.
- Poet As Bad Guy, and other poems. Dolton, IL: Cyfoeth Publications, 1963.
- Instead of Gifts: Poems for poets. Johnson, OH: Pudding House Publications, 1995.
- Answers, Questions. Laguna Beach, CA: Inevitable Press, 1996.
- God’s Haircut, and other remembered dreams: Poems. Eureka, CA: Pygmy Forest Press, 1999. ISBN 0-944550-50-9
- See You When.... Sacramento, CA: 24th Street Irregular Press, 2003.
- Off-Target: Poems. Glenview, IL: d’cypher Press, 2006. ISBN 0-9749550-1-9
- Fragments of a Journal of the Secret War. [Springfield, OR?]: Pygmy Forest Press, [2007?]
- Dillinger: Dead or Alive? (with Jay Robert Nash). Chicago: Regnery, 1970.
- Cagney. Chicago: Regnery, 1972.
- Brando. Chicago: Regnery, 1973.
- The Starving Poets' Cookbook. Laguna, Niguel, CA: Free Lunch Arts Alliance, 1994. ISBN 0-9643296-0-3
- Ron Offen, Wikipedia, August 24, 2018, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, Sep. 18, 2018.
- C.J. Laity, Top Dog: Ron Offen, Chicago Poetry Press, September 20, 2007. Web, Mar. 30, 2013
- Ron Offen Prize for Poetry, CEERES - Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies, University of Chicago. Web, Mar. 30, 2013.
- Search results = au:Ron Offen, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 2, 2015.
- Ron Offen at Amazon.com
- Free Lunch Poetry to End after Ron Offen hospitalized, Chicago Poetry Press
- Poet, publisher of Free Lunch magazine obituary in Chicago Tribune, August 19, 2010.
- Poet and Editor Ron Offen Dies, Haggard & Halloo Publications.
- Top Dog: Ron Offen, Review at Chicago Poetry Press
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