Charles Baxter was born in 1947 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He graduated from Macalester College in Saint Paul, and received his Ph.D in English from the University of Buffalo in 1974. He began his university teaching career at Wayne State University in Detroit, then taught for many years in the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Michigan. He currently teaches at the University of Minnesota and the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers.

Charles Baxter is often called a writer's writer. In an interview with the Atlantic, he said, "I feel as if I'm in a familiar locale when I'm writing short stories, since I often feel as if I know where everything is. I love the directness of the form…for me, stories begin when things start to go wrong". His characters often seem ordinary until a chance encounter, a persistent nagging or a tilt in their world order pushes them to make sudden, feverish decisions.

Charles Baxter is the author of six story collections. Harmony of the World, which won the Associated Writing Programs Award; Through the Safety Net; A Relative Stranger; Believers; and Gryphon: New and Selected Stories. He has written five novels: First Light; Shadow Play; Saul and Patsy; The Soul Thief and The Feast of Love, which became the basis of a 2007 film. His book of poetry is Imaginary Paintings, and his non–fiction work includes Burning Down the House, and The Art of The Subtext: Beyond Plot, which won the 2008 Minnesota Book Award for General Non–fiction.

Among other numerous honors and awards, Baxter received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, the Lawrence Foundation Award, the Michigan Author of the Year Award, a Michigan Council for the Arts Grant, and a Lila Wallace–Reader's Digest Foundation Fellowship. The Feast of Love was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award.