Max Isaac Apple was born October 22, 1941, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Samuel and Betty Goodstein Apple. He married Talya Fishman, and together they reared four children (two from a previous marriage): Jessica, Sam, Elisheva, and Leah. Apple received a B.A. degree in 1963 and a Ph.D. degree in 1970 from the University of Michigan. He did postgraduate study at Stanford University.
Following his graduation, Apple worked as an assistant professor of literature and humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In 1972, he accepted an appointment at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where he was assistant professor from 1972 to 1976, associate professor from 1976 to 1980, and professor of English beginning in 1980. Growing up in a three-generation Jewish household in which a respect for language and an appreciation of humor and style in language were the norm, Apple naturally gravitated toward the idea of telling stories. During the early 1970’s, Apple contributed to a study of Nathanael West edited by David Madden, Nathanael West: The Cheaters and the Cheated (1972), and to the journal Studies in English. In 1976, Apple gained recognition as a writer with The Oranging of America, and Other Stories.