Jean McGarry was born in Providence, Rhode Island, was educated at Regis and Radcliffe Colleges, the University of California-Irvine and Johns Hopkins University, where she received an M.A. in The Writing Seminars in 1983.  She has worked as a newspaper reporter and translator, but mostly has taught writing, first at the University of Missouri-Columbia, then at George Washington University, before coming to Hopkins to join The Writing Seminars faculty in 1987.  She chaired the department for eight years and was co-chair for five.

Her first book, Airs of Providence, a collection of stories interwoven with the chapters of a novella was published in 1985, and won the Southern Review prize for short fiction in that year.   The Very Rich Hours, which came out two years later, was another such blend: a novella about life at Harvard in the early 1970s, arranged around a set of prose poems.  By the third book, The Courage of Girls, a novel set in New York, all such experimentation had (at least temporarily) ceased.   In 1994, Home at Last, a collection of stories, was published, and reverted back to scenes from the streets of Providence, ranging in time from 1938 to the then present.  Three years later, another novel, Gallagher’s Travels, was published, recounting the story of an ambitious reporter on the make in the world of big-city dailies.   A chapter from Airs of Providence was excerpted in Cabbage and Bones, an anthology of Irish American Women’s Fiction, 1997. Dream Date, 2001, marked the point at which experimentation reappeared.  A Bad and Stupid Girl followed in 2005, and Ocean State, a story collection in 2010.  In the spring of 2017, No Harm Done, another collection, was published by Dalkey Archive Press.  Another collection of stories in the works: Spin Cycle, a novel, Blue Boy, a novella, and Tinytown, a story collection.  

Courses taught in The Writing Seminars include a four-part series on the craft of fictional description, characterization, landscape and setting, plot and story; a course on narrative voice, on writers’ journals, on first-person narrative in the works of Proust, Ford, Stein and Camus; regional American fiction and assorted readings courses on Joyce, Chekhov, Austen, Woolf, Kawabata, and Proust.

Individual stories have been published in The Yale Review, Little Star, Guernica, The American Scholar, Boulevard, Southern Review, Southwest Review, North American Review, Chicago Review, The New Yorker, Antioch Review, Stand, Sulfur and other journals.

An academic associate at the Baltimore-Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, the writer has given four talks on Chekhov at the annual convention of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and three talks on food writing (MFK Fisher and Brillat-Savarin in the Napa Valley.)  She has published a dozen essays on a variety of topics from writer’s block to the “hard novels” of Belgian whodunit author Georges Simenon.