David Guterson was born on May 4, 1956, in Seattle, Washington, the middle of five children to Murray (a criminal defense lawyer) and Shirley (a stay-at-home mother) Guterson. He enjoyed a happy childhood and spent lots of time outdoors. Since then, he has grown into an award-winning author, a contributing editor to Harper's magazine, and a vocal advocate of homeschooling.
Guterson first became interested in writing while studying at the University of Washington, from which he earned his bachelor's degree in 1978. The next year, he married Robin Radwick, a high school classmate. The newlyweds moved to Rhode Island, where Guterson attended Brown University's creative writing program for one semester. During the year they spent in Rhode Island, the Gutersons lived in a cabin on a tree farm. Robin worked as a speech therapist while her husband wrote short stories. Upon returning to the Pacific Northwest, Guterson completed a master's degree in writing at the University of Washington in 1982. The couple then moved to Puget Sound where Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) takes place.
Guterson continued writing after taking a job as a high school English teacher on Puget Sound, a job he held for ten years. When he accompanied students on a class trip to see an exhibit about Japanese internment camps, Guterson was inspired to write Cedars. The novel was so successful that he was able to quit his teaching job in 1994 and concentrate on writing. His teaching days were not over, however, because he and his wife have home-schooled their four children: Taylor, Travis, Henry, and Angelica.