Born in the oil-rich but economically impoverished Niger Delta area of Nigeria, Tanure Ojaide was raised by his grandmother in a riverine rural environment. He attended a Catholic Grammar School and Federal Government College, Warri. Ojaide was educated at the University of Ibadan, where he received a bachelor's degree in English, and Syracuse University, where he received both the M.A. in Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English.

A Fellow in Writing of the University of Iowa, his poetry awards include the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa Region (1987), the All-Africa Okigbo Prize for Poetry (1988, 1997), the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award (1988), and the Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Award (1988, 1994, 2003, and 2011). Sovereign Body was a runner-up for The Commonwealth Literature Prize for the Africa Region in 2005. His non-fiction, Drawing the Map of Heaven: An African Writer’s Experience of America, was a runner-up for the Penguin Prize for African Writing (2010).

Ojaide taught for many years at The University of Maiduguri (Nigeria). He has been at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) since July 1990 where he is the Frank Porter Graham Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship (1999/2000) to collect and study the "Udje Dance Songs of Nigeria's Urhobo People." He has twice received the Fulbright fellowship (2002/03 and 2013/14). He has read from his poetry in Britain, Harbourfront (Canada), International Poetry Festival, Medellin (Colombia), France, Pan-Africa Poetry Festival, Accra (Ghana), Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, World Poetry Festival, Rotterdam (The Netherlands), the United States, Poetry Africa (South Africa), and Sahitya Akademi World Poetry Festival, New Delhi (March 21-24, 2014).
Two international conferences have been held at Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria, in July 2005 and July 2008 to discuss Ojaide’s writings. He represented Nigeria in Poetry Africa 2005 at The University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa (October 10-16, 2005) and at the Medellin (Colombia) International Festival in July 2013. Ojaide was the 2005 recipient of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s First Citizens Bank Scholar Award for his creative writing and scholarship and the 2016 ALA Folon-Nichols Award for African Writer of Excellence. In 2016, he was awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit for the Humanities. His poetry has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Sanskrit, and Hindi.

Ojaide’s various poetry collections include Labyrinths of the Delta (1986), The Fate of Vultures (1990), The Blood of Peace (1991), The Tale of the Harmattan (2007), Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel (2008), The Beauty I Have Seen (2010), and Love Gifts (2013). His other writings are: two memoirs, Great Boys: An African Childhood (1998) and Drawing the Map of Heaven: An African Writer in America (2012); three collections of short stories including God’s Medicine Men & Other Stories (2004) and The Old Man in a State House (2012); four novels, Sovereign Body (2004), The Activist (2006), Matters of the Moment (2009) and Stars of the Long Night (2012); and six scholarly books, including Poetic Imagination in Black Africa (1996), Poetry, Performance, and Art: Udje Dance Songs of the Urhobo People (2003), and Contemporary African Literature: New Approaches (2012).