Tomas Tranströmer was born in Stockholm in 1931. His father was a journalist, but after his parents divorced he saw his father rarely. Tranströmer's mother was a teacher. In his childhood Tranströmer spent many summers on the island of Runmarö, and in his poetry collection Östersjöar (1974, Baltics) and memoir Minnena ser mig (1993) he also returned to its landscape.
Before Tranströmer became interested in music and painting, he was fascinated by archaeology and natural sciences and wanted to become an explorer. Tranströmer was educated at Södra Latin School, where he started to read and write poetry. In 1956 he received a degree in psychology from the University of Stockholm. He worked for the Psychotechnological Institute at the university, and in 1960 he became a psychologist at Roxtuna, an institution for juvenile offenders.
From the mid-1960s Tranströmer divided his time between his writing and his work as a psychologist. In 1965 he moved with his family to Västerås, a city about sixty miles west of Stockholm. After suffering a stroke in 1990, which deprived him of his speech and partly inhibited movement on his right-hand side, he moved back to Stockholm.
In 1990 Tranströmer received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His other awards include the Bonnier Award for Poetry, Germany's Petrarch Prize, Bellman Prize, The Swedish Academy’s Nordic Prize, and August Prize. In 2011 he finally was awarded the Nobel Prize.
In 1997 the city of Västerås established a special Tranströmer Prize.