William D. Barney, poet laureate of Texas, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on April 19, 1916. His father, an aspiring semiprofessional baseball player, moved the family to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1928 for the opportunity to try out for the team there and to find employment in the city's thriving oil business. Barney attended Fort Worth's Central High School where he first expressed an interest in writing poetry which became his life's work.
Briefly Barney attended Texas Christian University but made his living as an employee of the U.S. Postal Service beginning in 1936. He married a fellow Central High School graduate, Mary Louise Mills, in 1937 and raised four sons: William, Winston, Robert, and Ronald. The couple was well known in the local churches for their musical talents, particularly Barney's baritone vocals. They additionally spent time bird watching, camping, gardening, and traveling, which inspired the theme of nature in Barney's poetry. He also contributed to the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, the Friends of the Fort Worth Public Library, and drove a Meals on Wheels bus for twenty-one years. After thirty-five years as a postal worker in Dallas and Fort Worth, he retired in 1971 which enabled him to pursue his interests full-time.
Barney's interest in poetry resurfaced after high school, and he wrote poetry throughout his postal career and upon his retirement. He became a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, the Poetry Society of America, the Poetry Society of Texas, and was elected as the president of the Poetry Society of Texas in 1952 and 1953. Additionally he received the Robert Frost Award, presented by Frost himself, for narrative poetry in 1961. In 1982 Barney, after receiving the recommendation of five literary societies, became the poet laureate of Texas. During his lifetime he wrote nine books of poetry, two of which won Texas Institute of Letters awards. Kneel from the Stone and Permitted Proof were published by Kaleidograph Press of Dallas in 1952 and 1955 respectively. He also published The Killdeer Crying (1977), Little Kiss of the Nettle (1983), Long Gone to Texas (1986)—which won the Poetry Society of Texas sponsored Nortex Press Book Award, A Reach of Wildness (1986), Listening Back (1992), Words from a Wide Land (1993), and an addition to the American Regional Book Series, Cowtown Chronicle (1999). William D. Barney died from a heart attack on November 19, 2001, in Fort Worth. He was buried there at Mount Olivet Cemetery.