Born in Frederiksberg, Denmark, on April 13, 1923, Erik Christian Haugaard began working as a farm laborer in Denmark when he was fifteen years old. Two years later he left the country, hoping to satisfy his curiosity about other cultures through extensive travel. In 1940 he entered Black Mountain College in North Carolina but soon enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he served from 1942 to 1945. After his discharge he attended the New School for Social Research in New York from 1945 to 1947. In 1947 he married fellow writer Myrna Seld. The couple has two children.
Haugaard's work often focuses on the imminent possibility of death and the attendant dearness of life, a theme the author traces to his military service in World War II. He considers his present story-telling an outgrowth of the fiction he told himself as a child.
Haugaard's work has won numerous awards, including honorable mention at the New York Herald Tribune Children's Spring Book Festival for both Hakon of Rogen's Saga and The Little Fishes, as well as the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Jane Addams Award, and Danish Cultural Minister's Prize, all for The Little Fishes. Fluent in English, Danish, and Norwegian, Haugaard has translated Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales from Danish to English.