Charles Morley Baxter was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 13, 1947. Baxter attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1969. Baxter published his first book of poetry in 1970. After teaching high school English in the small town of Pinconning, Michigan, during 1969-1970, he began graduate work at the State University of New York at Buffalo, completing a Ph.D. in 1974, the same year he published The South Dakota Guidebook. He returned to Michigan to teach at Wayne State University in Detroit in 1974. In July of 1976, he married Martha Ann Hauser. At Wayne State, Baxter moved through the ranks, achieving full professorship in 1985.
In 1984, Baxter published his first collection of short stories, Harmony of the World, for which he received both the Associated Writing Programs Award and the Lawrence Foundation Award. The following year, he published his second collection of short stories, Through the Safety Net, followed by his novel First Light in 1987. In 1989, Baxter left Wayne State to begin teaching at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He also began teaching in the Warren Wilson writing program in 1986.
During the 1990’s, Baxter continued regularly to contribute literary criticism and short stories to a host of literary journals of the highest quality including Prairie Schooner, Michigan Quarterly, and Minnesota Review, a journal he had edited in 1967-1969. During the same decade, he published a volume of poetry, two collections of short stories (A Relative Stranger in 1990 and Believers in 1997) and a novel, Shadow Play (1993).