Kimon Friar was born in 1911 in Imrali, Ottoman Empire, to an American father and a Greek mother. He was brought to the United States in 1915 and naturalized soon after in 1920. As a child Friar had problems with the English language, and so he focused all his energy on art. He discovered poetry at a young age, and, as a teenager, he became interested in drama. After reading Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats, Friar became fascinated with the energy of the English language and determined to master it.
Friar was educated at a number of institutions, including the Chicago Art Institute, the Yale School of Drama, the University of Iowa, and University of Wisconsin where he received his bachelor's degree with honors in 1935. He went on to University of Michigan for his master's degree in 1940, and he won the Avery Hopwood Major Award for Yeats: A Vision.
Although he was dedicated to writing and translating poetry, Friar began teaching to support himself soon after leaving the University of Michigan. He taught English at Adelphi from 1940-1945, at Amherst College from 1945-1946, at New York University from 1952-1953, and at University of Minnesota at Duluth from 1953-1954. He also served as a visiting lecturer at the following universities: California at Berkeley, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio State.
During these years, Friar organized poetry readings for the pleasure of the public. He was the director of the Poetry Center in the YW/YMHA in New York City from 1943-1946 where he encouraged famous poets and amateurs to read their poetry at receptions. From 1951-1952, Friar ran the Theatre Circle at the Circle in the Square Theatre, also in New York City. The plays produced there were primarily from the works of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, and Archibald MacLeish.
Friar acted as the editor, from 1960-1962, of The Charioteer, and from 1963-1965, of Greek Heritage, two magazines dealing with Greek culture. Friar had been translating poetry from Greek into English, learning both languages fluently and gaining a perspective on modern Greek poetry. He has written, translated, and edited innumerable works, including Modern Poetry: American and British (with John Malcolm Brinnin) in 1951, the 1960 translation of Saviors of God and the 1963 translation of Sodom and Gomorrah by Nikos Kazantzakis, and the 1973 anthology Modern Greek Poetry: from Cavafis to Elytis. However, Friar is best known for his translation of Kazantzakis' epic poem The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. Friar completed this work in 1958 after several years of close collaboration with the author. Some critics declared that Friar lost his way in the double adjectives and complex language of the original (Kazantzakis used ancient vocabulary that is generally unknown to metropolitan scholars), and others agreed that Friar was at his best when he chose the prosaic word over the contrived or archaic. A Time magazine reviewer regarded The Odyssey as "a masterpiece. Kimon Friar received from Kazantzakis the ultimate praise: that his translation was as good as the original."
In 1978 Friar received the Greek World Award. Then, in 1986 he won both a Ford Foundation Grant and a National Foundation of the Arts Grant. He maintained: "I like to say that the poet in a translation should be heard, but the translator should be overheard." Kimon Friar died on 25 May 1993.