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Schmidt was Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University until 2014, the Writer in Residence at St. John's College, Cambridge from 2012 to 2015 and a visiting fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge from 2017-2018. He is founder (1969) and editorial and managing director of Carcanet Press and a founder (1973) and general editor of PN Review. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he received an OBE in 2006 for services to poetry. His literary career has been described as having "a strong sense of internationalism and cultural 'connectedness'". Schmidt refers to himself in his book Lives of the Poets as "an Anglophone Mexican publisher".
Schmidt's 2014 book The Novel: A Biography is a loosely chronological history of the development of the novel. The book aims to explore the relationships between great novelists, including views by other novelists while avoiding literary critics who were not also writers.