Douglas Woolf was born in New York City and studied at Harvard University, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Arizona. His studies were paused by World War II, during which he served in the Air Force. Longing for the excitement he experienced in the war, he spent much of his youth traveling throughout the United States and working transitory jobs. His experiences on the road would inform his writing, much of which concerns cross-country journeys. His accolades include a 1980 American Book Award.