Killis Campbell, writer and professor of literature, the son of Robert Camm and Alice (Hawes) Campbell, was born in Enfield, Virginia, on June 11, 1872. He earned a B.Litt. degree at Peabody College for Teachers in 1892 and a B.A. degree at William and Mary College in 1894. For graduate study in English he went to Johns Hopkins University, where he held a fellowship in 1897–98 and received his Ph.D. in 1898. The summers of 1897, 1902, and 1904 he spent studying in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library.
In 1899 he taught English at Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He then accepted an instructorship in English at the University of Texas, where he was made professor in 1918. He continued to teach until 1937, when he suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered. Campbell's first scholarly love was the literature of the Middle Ages, and his definitive edition of a version of The Seven Sages of Rome (1907) was judged a model of scholarship. In the classroom he was subsequently drawn to the study of American literature, especially to Edgar Allan Poe. As a pioneer in the serious teaching of American literature, he was probably more influential than any other individual in the formation, about 1921, of the American Literature Study Group of the Modern Language Association of America. He was research professor at the University of Texas for 1930–31 and vice president of the MLA in 1934–35. In addition to editing The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1917) and Poe's Short Stories (1927), he published a number of essays on Poe under the title The Mind of Poe and Other Studies. In numerous shorter articles on Walt Whitman and James Russell Lowell as well as Poe, and in similar published works that he inspired his students to undertake and push to completion, Campbell made large contributions to knowledge. He died on August 8, 1937, and was buried in Austin. He was survived by his widow, Mary Hogg (Aitken), whom he had married in 1902, and five children. Campbell was a Democrat and a member of the Christian Church.