Rampersad, a native of Trinidad, came to the United States to attend Bowling Green University in Ohio, where he received a bachelor's degree in English in 1967 and a year later, his master's degree. In 1969, he also received a master's degree from Harvard University and obtained a Ph.D. in 1973, later returning to the Department of Afro-American Studies as a visiting professor.
Currently Woodrow Wilson Professor of English and director of American studies at Princeton University, Rampersad has also taught at the University of Virginia, as well as the universities of Stanford, Rutgers and Columbia . He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1991, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
As a scholar, literary critic and practicing biographer, Rampersad explores black culture and experience. He has narrated the lives of several important black Americans, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes. The Life of Langston Hughes has won numerous awards and was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1989.
Listed in Who's Who in America, Rampersad is currently working on a biography of baseball great, Jackie Robinson.