Mark Kurlansky was born in Hartford, Connecticut.  After receiving a BA in Theater from Butler University in 1970, and refusing to serve in the military, Kurlansky worked in New York as a playwright, having a number of off-off Broadway productions, and as a playwright-in-residence at Brooklyn College. He won the 1972 Earplay award for best radio play of the year. 

He worked many other jobs including as a commercial fisherman, a dock worker, a paralegal, a cook, and a pastry chef.

In the mid 1970s, unhappy with the direction New York theater was taking, he turned to journalism, an early interest–he had been an editor on his high school newspaper.  From 1976 to 1991 he worked as a  foreign correspondent for The International Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Based in Paris and then Mexico, he reported on Europe, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

His articles have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The International Herald Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, Partisan Review, Harper’s, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Audubon Magazine, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Apetit and Parade.

He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

In addition to numerous guest lectures at Columbia University School of Journalism, Yale University, Colby College, Grinnell College, the University of Dayton  and various other schools, he has taught a two week creative writing class in Assisi, Italy, a one week intensive non-fiction workshop in Devon, England for the Arvon Foundation, and has guest lectured all over the world on history, writing, environmental issues, and other subjects.  In Spring 2007 he was the Harman writer-in-residence at Baruch College teaching a fourteen week honors course titled “Journalism and the Literary Imagination.” His books have been translated into thirty languages and he often illustrates them himself.

He has had 38 books published including fiction, nonfiction, and children's books and has been translated into 30 languages.

Among the awards he has received are:
  •  2021 National Outdoor Book Awards THE UNREASONABLE VIRTUE OF FLY FISHING is the Award Winner in the Outdoor Literary Category 
  • Three awards for Salmon: 2020 Andre Simon food and drink awards , The John Avery Award and the IBPA Ben Franklin Gold Awadr for Nature nd Environment writing and the 2021 British Guild of Food Writer Awards "highly recommended" in the "Investigative Food Writing" category
  • 2017 Havana named one of top seven travel books of the year by Smithsonian magazine
  • 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection for Frozen In Time
  • 2012 Robert Laxalt Distinguished Writer award from Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno
  • 2011 National Parenting Publications Awards-- gold award for World Without Fish
  • 2007 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonviolence
  • 2007 Doctor of Letters, Butler University
  • 2006 Bon Appetit Magazine’s Food Writer of the Year.
  • 2005 ALA Notable Book Council Award for 1968: The Year That Rocked The World
  • 2001 Basque Hall of Fame
  • 2001 Honorary ambassadorship from the Basque government    
  • Cod received the 1999 James Beard Award for Food Writing and the 1999 Glenfiddich Award
  • The children’s book, The Cod’s Tale, received the Orbis Pictus award from the National Council of Teachers of English.
  • The children’s book, The Story of Salt, received the ALA Notable Book Award
  • A Continent of Islands and Cod both received The New York Public Library Best Books of the Year Award
  • Salt received the Pluma Plata award from the Bilbao Book Fair and was a finalist for the
  • LA Times Science Writing Award and the James Beard food writing award.
  • 1968 received the ALA Notable Book Award
  • Cod, Salt, 1968, and Food of a Younger Land were all New York Times Best Sellers and along with The Basque History of the World were international best sellers. But, of course, given that Sarah Palin's tome is also a best seller, this seems a dubious laurel.