David Henderson was born in 1942 in Harlem, New York City, New York, and was raised in Harlem and the Bronx. His first poem was published in 1960 in the weekly African-American newspaper The Black American. In 1963 Henderson co-founded Umbra, both a literary collective and literary magazine with other Black writers and artists in New York's Lower East Side. Henderson began as co-editor of the journal, and later became the general editor. Henderson's first collection of poetry, Felix of the Silent Forest, was published in 1967 under the Kriya Press imprint, with an introduction by Amiri Baraka.