Stephen Dixon was born Stephen Ditchik in Brooklyn, New York, on June 6, 1936, the son of a dentist and an interior decorator. After going to public school in Manhattan, where his father set up a dental practice, he attended New York City College and received a B.A. degree in 1958. Following a short stint as a newsman in Washington, D.C., he returned to New York in 1961 to work as a news editor for Columbia Broadcasting System and as an editor for two detective magazines. During 1964-1965, he attended Stanford University on a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and began publishing stories in The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and numerous smaller magazines.
In 1979, Dixon began teaching creative writing at New York University’s School of Continuing Education, and in the following fall he was hired as an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he became a professor and the chair of the university’s Writing Seminars program. In 1982, he married Anne Frydman, a teacher of Russian literature, with whom he had two daughters.