Stephen Donaldson was born in 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio. Between the ages of three and sixteen he lived in India, where his father, an orthopaedic surgeon, worked with leprosy sufferers. This inspired his fictional character, Thomas Covenant.
Donaldson served two years as a conscientious objector doing hospital work in Akron, then attended Kent State University, where he received his M.A. in English in 1971. He now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.