Thomas King was born on April 24, 1943 in Sacramento, California to a mother of Greek and Swiss-German descent and father who was Cherokee. King and his brother were raised by their mother after their father left the family. Although he was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church, King enjoyed an eclectic sampling of religious influences in his childhood from the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Evangelical churches. King attended private Catholic and public schools in middle school and high school before flunking out of Sacramento State University in his first year. King went on to join the Navy and was discarded due to a knee injury soon thereafter. He held an odd assortment of jobs including ambulance driver, blackjack dealer and junior executive at the Bank of America. A few years later he quit his job at the bank and traveled to New Zealand and worked as a journalist/photographer. Returning to the United States he completed his B.A. and M.A. at the Chico State University in California. He obtained his Ph.D in English from the University of Utah in 1971. King’s dissertation concentrated on Native Studies and the history of oral tradition in literature.
King would go on to teach Native Studies at the University of California and the University of Minnesota where he became the Chair of American Indian Studies. In 1980 King moved to Canada to teach at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta and then on to the University of Guelph in Ontario.
King began writing in the early 1980s and has published an array of novels, short stories, scripts, children’s books, and works of non-fiction. His collective works include: Medicine River (1990); A Coyote Columbus Story (1992); Green Grass, Running Water (1993); One Good Story, That One (1993); Borders (1993); Coyotes Sings to the Moon (1998); Truth and Bright Water (1999); Dreadful Water Shows Up (2002); The Truth about Stories (2003); Coyote’s New Suit (2004); A Short History of Indians in Canada (2005); The Red Power Murders: A DreadfulWater Mystery (2006); The Inconvenient Indian (2012); The Back of the Turtle (2014).
He has also worked as an editor on a number of anthologies about Native Studies including Native in Literature (1987) and An Anthology of Short Fiction by Native Writers in Canada (1988). King wrote the radio show The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour based on his work in Green Grass, Running Water. The show ran from 1997 to 2000 on CBC Radio. It spawned a sequel which ran from 2002 to 2006 on the same station. King also wrote and directed a short film in 2007 entitled I’m Not the Indian You Had in Mind.
King’s many literary awards include the Governor’s General Award in 2014 for the Back of the Turtle. In 2014 The Inconvenient Indian won the RBC Taylor Prize, was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature. A Short History of Indians in Canada won the 2006 McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award. King gave the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Massey Lectures, a high honor, for his work on The Truth About Stories in 2003. King received two nominations for the Governor General’s Award in 1992 for A Coyote Columbus Story and in 1993 for Green Grass, Running Water. Canada Reads also included Green Grass, Running Water for its national-wide reading event in 2004.
King holds a dual citizenship in the United States and Canada. He is a vocal political activist for aboriginal rights in both countries. In 2007 King sought the New Democratic Party nomination for Guelph and came in fourth in the Canadian federal election of 2008.
Thomas King retired from the University of Guelph and was named Professor Emeritus of English in 2013.