A native of Kansas, Fred Whitehead attended the University of Kansas, graduating with honors in 1965. After a year in England as a Fulbright scholar, he matriculated at Columbia University, earning the Ph.D. in 1972. He retired in 2000 from the administrative staff of the University of Kansas, at the rank of Associate Professor. 

Among his published books are Freethought on the American Frontier (1992), The Collected Poems of Don Gordon (2004), and The Whole Song: Selected Poetry of Vincent Ferrini (co-edited, 2004). 

More recently he has produced and directed documentary films, including A Commemoration of John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry, and Slavery in Missouri.