Mark Kurlansky was born in Hartford, Connecticut. After receiving a BA in Theater from Butler University in 1970—and refusing to serve in the military—Kurlansky worked in New York as a playwright, having a number of off-off Broadway productions, and as a playwright-in-residence at Brooklyn College. He won the 1972 Earplay award for best radio play of the year.
He has worked many other jobs, including as a commercial fisherman, a dock worker, a paralegal, a cook, and a pastry chef.
In the mid-1970s, unhappy with the direction New York theater was taking, he turned to journalism, an early interest—he had been an editor on his high school newspaper. From 1976 to 1991 he worked as a foreign correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Based in Paris and then Mexico, he reported on Europe, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
His articles have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the International Herald Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Time, Partisan Review, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Audubon, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Apetit, and Parade.
He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to numerous guest lectures at Columbia University School of Journalism, Yale University, Colby College, Grinnell College, the University of Dayton, and various other schools, he has taught a two-week creative writing class in Assisi, Italy; led a one-week intensive non-fiction workshop in Devon, England for the Arvon Foundation; and guest lectured all over the world on history, writing, environmental issues, and other subjects. In spring 2007, he was the Harman writer-in-residence at Baruch College, teaching a fourteen-week honors course titled “Journalism and the Literary Imagination.”
He has had 35 books published including fiction, nonfiction, and children's books. His books have been translated into twenty-five languages and he often illustrates them himself.