Born in Chicago, Illinois, Janet Lewis was a very influential writer in and active member of the University of Chicago Poetry Club. Her marriage to poet Yvor Winters in 1926 proved important, as together they founded a literary magazine entitled Gyroscope, which lasted from from 1929 to 1931.
Lewis's poetry is distinctly American in subject matter. Her first collection of verse, The Indians in the Woods of 1922, stemmed from a childhood fascination with Native Americans. This fascination continued even into her late volumes of poetry, such as The Ancient Ones of 1979, which Suzanne Doyle of Southern Review referred to as "a temperamental affinity of the poet for the Indian consciousness."
Lewis also collaborated with composer Alva Henderson on song texts (as well as libretti).
Theodore Roethke wrote in Poetry that Lewis's poetry "is marked by an absolute integrity of spirit and often by the finality in phrasing that can accompany such integrity."