Born September 9, 1958, Warner received two Master of Arts degrees, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Johns Hopkins University, in 1981 and 1983 respectively. He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 1986. Warner assumed his position at Yale University in 2007, and became Seymour H. Knox Professor of English Literature and American studies in 2008. Prior to his work at Yale, he taught at Northwestern University (1985–1990) and Rutgers University (1990–2007).
Warner is highly influential in the fields of early American literature, social theory, and queer theory. His first book, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America, established him as a leading scholar in Early American literature, print culture, and public sphere theory. He later became a public figure in the for his book The Trouble with Normal, in which Warner contended that queer theory and the ethics of a queer life serve as critiques of existing social and economic structures, not just as critique of heterosexuality and heterosexual society. His most recent work, Publics and Counterpublics is a collection of essays on the politics of communication in advanced capitalistic societies, or Habermasian public sphere theory.
Warner is currently working on the history of secularism in early America, from the early eighteenth century to the Civil War, culminating with the work of Walt Whitman, a writer on whom many of his interests converge.
Warner has been a permanent fellow of Rutger University's Center for Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture since 2001, and was a director from 2006-2008. He also sits on a number of Advisory Boards, including that of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (since 1999), the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University (since 2003), and the Library of America Colonial Writing Project (since 2005).
Warner is, along with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Teresa de Lauretis,[a] Lauren Berlant, and Judith Butler, considered one of the founders of queer theory.