Jane Alison was born in Canberra, Australia, and spent two years in Australia as a small child, growing up mainly in the United States as a child of diplomatic parents. She attended public schools in Washington, D.C., and then earned a B.A. in classics from Princeton University in 1983. Before writing fiction, she worked as an administrator for the National Endowment for the Humanities, as a production artist for the Washington City Paper, as an editor for the Miami New Times, and as a proposal and speech writer for Tulane University. She also worked as a freelance editor and illustrator before attending Columbia University to study creative writing.
Having lived in Karlsruhe, Germany for the past 10 years, she recently moved to Miami, Florida, in 2007, and began teaching in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Miami.