Strand was born in 1934 at Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Raised in a secular Jewish family, he spent his early years in North America and much of his adolescence in South and Central America. Strand graduated from Oakwood Friends School in 1951 and in 1957 earned his B.A. from Antioch College in Ohio. He then studied painting under Josef Albers at Yale University, where he earned a B.F.A in 1959.
On a U.S.-Italy Fulbright Commission scholarship, Strand studied 19th-century Italian poetry in Florence in 1960–61. He attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa the following year and earned a Master of Arts in 1962. In 1965 he spent a year in Brazil as a Fulbright Lecturer.
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