Sharyn McCrumb was born Sharyn Elaine Arwood in Wilmington, North Carolina. Her father, Frank Arwood, was chairman of the Elementary Education Department at East Carolina University. McCrumb acknowledged the formative influence of his storytelling when she dedicated Lovely in Her Bones to him. His bedtime stories were installments from the Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611), but he also told her about the circuit-riding preachers who were their ancestors (the Arrowoods and the McCourys). Helen Arwood, McCrumb’s mother, grew up in the eastern part of North Carolina, and McCrumb’s grandmother told her stories about North Carolina during the Civil War. Many of the family legends have made their way into McCrumb’s novels, especially the Ballad series.
McCrumb completed a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and communications at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1970, and by 1976 she had become a professional writer. She also took graduate classes in speech and theater at Wake Forest University in 1977 and earned a master’s degree in English at Virginia Tech in 1985.
On January 9, 1982, McCrumb married David Kenneth McCrumb, an environmental engineer. The McCrumbs have two children, Spencer and Laura. In 1983 Sharyn McCrumb became a member of the Appalachian Studies faculty at Virginia Tech.