Susan Minot was born in a north Boston suburb and grew up in a family of seven children that bears a strong resemblance to the one portrayed in Monkeys. She attended preparatory school at Concord Academy, where she worked on the school’s literary magazine and spent summers with her family in North Haven, Maine. After beginning her college career at Boston University, Minot transferred to Brown University, where she studied creative writing and art, earning her B.A. in 1978. During her senior year, her mother was killed in a car accident; after graduation she returned home to care for her father and youngest sister.
Minot earned an M.F.A. in 1983 from Columbia University, where she began writing the stories that would be collected in Monkeys. While attending Columbia she worked as an editorial assistant for The New York Review of Books (1981) and as an assistant editor for Grand Street (1982 to 1986), whose editor Ben Sonnenberg had published her first story, “Hiding.” Before committing herself to writing full time, Minot worked as a carpenter, waitress, Greenpeace canvasser, and bookseller. After the critical success of Monkeys, she retreated to a small village in Tuscany for a brief sojourn, during which she wrote many of the pieces in Lust, and Other Stories. She married filmmaker Davis McHenry in 1988, and they made their home in New York, where she occasionally teaches writing workshops at Columbia.