Elias Wolf Mandel was born on December 3, 1922, in Estevan. Growing up in the area provided him with a strong sense of Russian-Jewish culture and the prairie west, both featuring prominently in his poems. In 1935 Mandel's family moved to Regina, and in 1942 he began attending Regina College to study pharmacy. One year later, he joined the army and served overseas as a medical corpsman. After the end of the war, he returned to Saskatchewan and received his BA (1949) and MA (1950) from the University of Saskatchewan. In 1949, Mandel married Miriam Minovitch and in 1950, they went to Toronto, where he worked on his PhD at the University of Toronto and began publishing poems in literary journals. From 1953 to 1957, he worked on his dissertation on Christopher Smart, wrote poetry, and taught at the Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean. He completed his doctorate in 1957 and moved to the University of Alberta, where he stayed until 1967. He then divorced Miriam, married Ann Hardy, and returned to Toronto.
That year also brought a major accomplishment for Mandel: he published the collection An Idiot Joy and received the Governor General's Award for Poetry in English. In 1970, he was included in the Oxford anthology, 15 Canadian Poets. In the 1970s, Mandel moved to a new territory in his work, inspired by his memories of the prairies. He also became more involved in the Canadian literary community and less in the structures of the university. In 1978-79, he became the first writer-in-residence at the Regina Public Library, and in 1982 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Throughout his lifetime, Mandel wrote ten volumes of poetry and two essay collections; and he published articles and reviews on cultural politics, literature, literary theory, and art. He also edited several anthologies of Canadian, British, and American poets, such as Five Modern Canadian Poets in 1969 and Eight More Canadian Poets in 1972. Mandel served as professor at York University until his retirement. He won various awards, including a Centennial Medal in 1967 and a Silver Jubilee medal in 1977. He died in Toronto on September 3, 1992.