Born in Chicago in l947, Mary Morris moved East to go to college. Though she never returned to the Middle West, she often writes about the region and its tug. Morris likes the fact that there is more magnetisim around the shores of Lake Michigan than the North Pole. She feels drawn there and feel an affinity for Midwestern writers such as Willa Cather and Mark Twain who wrote their stories of the Middle West from afar. In her first collection of short stories, Vanishing Animals & Other Stories, awarded the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters, Morris writes about childhood and adolescent memories. The Chicago Tribune called Morris "a marvelous storyteller-a budding Isaac Bashevis Singer, a young Doris Lessing, a talent to be watched and read".
Morris's stories often deal with the tension between home and away. Travel is an important theme in many of the stories in her three collections, including Vanishing Animals, The Bus of Dreams, and The Lifeguard Stories. It is also a recurrent theme in her trilogy of travel memoirs, including the acclaimed Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, Wall to Wall: from Beijing to Berlin by Rail, and Angels & Aliens: A Journey West. In her five novels, including The Waiting Room, The Night Sky(formerly published as A Mother's Love) and House Arrest, Morris writes of family, its difficulties and disappointments, its iron grip and necessity, and ultimately the comfort family can bring.
Her last two novels have been historically based. THE JAZZ PALACE, published in 2015, took almost twenty years to write. In the summer of 1997 Mary Morris wrote a short memoir piece and she shared it with the writer, Stuart Dybek. Stuart told her that she was writing a saga and she should just sit down and do it. For much of the next two decades Morris was writing The Jazz Palace. For years she traveled to Chicago for research, studied jazz piano, and read everything she could about the history of the city she loves, but left long ago. Despite years of rejections and revisions Morris never gave up on this book, or, as she sometimes likes to put it, the book never gave up on her. “I’ve been the poster child for perseverance,” Morris quips. The result is the novel about which leads Christina Baker Kline to write that “we know we are in the hands of a master.” And Valerie Martin refers to as “a sweeping tribute, a jazz ode, by a wonderful writer to her native city.” And Peter Orner refers to it as “An exquisite love letter to her hometown and yet a book that transcends time and place.”
Morris began her newest work, GATEWAY TO THE MOON, in the summer of 2014. She had another idea for a novel, but her agent, Ellen Levine, urged her to a book that was "about" something.
Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, Morris sees herself as a storyteller, weaving tales. A Japanese critic once, referring to her non-fiction, told Morris that she is not really a travel writer; rather she writes stories that take place during journeys.
Her many novels and story collections have been translated into Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Swedish and Japanese. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and daughter and teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College.