Julia Slavin was born in 1960 and grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, among four older brothers. In a Washington Post interview, she said that she was “a complete washout at school. I had one of those diseases with initials that when I was growing up just meant screwing up.” Her parents influenced her writing career in different ways. Her father, a psychologist, taught about the unconscious mind and the role of dreams, while her mother gave her a love of language.
She graduated from college with a degree in art history, although her career goal was to go to New York and be a playwright. A few days in New York demonstrated to her how difficult it would be to make a living in this way. She took a job at American Broadcasting Company (ABC) television, where she finally became the producer of Prime Time Live. After ten years in New York, she decided to return to writing. She, her husband, and her two daughters moved to Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 1992. She met with success almost immediately, placing several stories in respected literary journals. The appearance of The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club marked her first book-length publication.