Elliott Coleman was born on September 26, 1906 in Binghamton, New York, the son of a clergyman. He graduated from Wheaton College in 1928 and taught for 12 years at a boys school in Asheville, N.C. He then turned to theology, studying a year at the Princeton Theological School, and then Oxford University. In 1940 he went to New York to study at the General Theological Seminary. Coleman was ordained an Episcopal Deacon in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. While in New York, Coleman worked for two publishers: Henry Holt & Co. (1942-43) and Doubleday & Co. (1943-45).
In 1945 Coleman came to The Johns Hopkins University to reorganize the freshman writing course. The following year in September 1946 he founded the Department of Writing, Speech and Drama the predecessor to The Writing Seminars. He remained chairman of this department until his retirement in 1975.
Coleman was a scholar whose work dealt with the literary criticism of Marcel Proust, T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. He edited a volume of the poems of Byron, Keats, and Shelley and translated the poems of Pierre Emmanuel, Georges Poulet, and Alfredo Rizzandi. Coleman was also a poet and published more than a dozen volumes of poetry.
Coleman died on February 23, 1980 at the Stella Maris Hospice near Baltimore.