Walter Abish was born in Vienna in 1931. His father was a perfumer. As Jews, his family fled the country when the Nazis annexed Austria, going first to France and then, when the Germans invaded France, to Shanghai. In 1948, they moved to Israel, where Abish served in the Israeli Tank Corps. It was while in the army that he decided to become a writer. After military service, he studied architecture. He met and married an American woman, Cecile Gelb, and they moved to the United States in 1957, where he worked as an urban planner. He initially wrote poetry and short stories but published his first, highly experimental novel Alphabetical Africa in 1974. He wrote two further novels but has published little recently. He has taught in various universities in the North-East, particularly Columbia, and has received several awards.