A native of Brooklyn, New York, David Ball earned his Doctorat en Littérature Générale et Comparée from the Université de Paris-III (Sorbonne Nouvelle) in 1971, his Licence ès Lettres from the Université de Paris (Sorbonne) in 1964, and retired from Smith College as Professor Emeritus of French and Comparative Literature in 2002.
Since then, Ball has published articles on translation (English versions of Oscar Wilde's French "Salomé"), writing in France in May '68 (in French Politics, Culture and Society), under German occupation (one in French, in Raison Présente); on a contemporary British poet (Tom Raworth) and an American one (Anne Sexton); and on francophone literature (the latter with Nicole Ball).
He has published seven book-length translations since retirement, most recently Jean Guéhenno's Diary of the Dark Years (Oxford University Press), which he also edited, annotated and introduced—work supported by a Mellon Emeritus fellowship. With Nicole Ball, he translated Transit and Passage of Tears, two novels by the French-G'Djiboutian novelist Abdourahman A. Waberi, and Efina by the Swiss writer Noëlle Revaz. His version of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu roi (Ubu the King) appeared in the Norton Anthology of Drama and he has translated works by Pierre Loti and poetry by James Sacré and Henri Michaux. His Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology 1927-1984 (University of California Press) won the MLA's prize for outstanding literary translation in 1995. His own poetry can be found in eight chapbooks and many small literary magazines.
With Nicole Ball, his translation of Waberi's novel Aux États-Unis d'Afrique/In the United States of Africa was awarded a grant by the Cultural Service of the French Embassy and appeared in its "French Voices" series in 2009 (University of Nebraska Press.) They are currently at work on another translation of a contemporary French novel with a "French Voices" grant in addition to a volume of French noir stories. Ball was president of the American Literary Translators Association from 2003-05.
He was awarded the 28th annual French-American Foundation/Florence Gould Foundation translation prize for non-fiction in 2015 for Diary of the Dark Years.