After receiving degrees at Roxbury Latin School, Dartmouth College, and Harvard University, David Godine worked for Leonard Baskin, the renowned typographer and printmaker, and Harold McGrath, his master printer. David Godine opened a printing shop in 1970 in a deserted barn in Brookline, Massachusetts. His first books, printed on his own presses, were nearly all letterpress, limited editions printed on high-quality rag or handmade paper.
On July 1, 2002, John Martin, the founder and for thirty-six years the publisher of Black Sparrow Press, retired from publishing. After finding new homes for four of his more major authors — Charles Bukowski, Paul Bowles, John Fante, and D. B. Wyndham Lewis — Martin sold the rest of his backlist to a fellow publisher, David R. Godine. The agreement was simple and honest: David would keep Black Sparrow's offerings available to the public, keep the best-selling titles reprinted, and keep the Black Sparrow's spirit alive through acquisitions that reflect the ideals of its founder. In short, Black Sparrow Press has become an imprint at David R. Godine as Black Sparrow Books. He produces 20 to 30 titles a year. He also sells Isaac Babel. In 1980, the company initiated its children's program.