Albert Wendt was born in Apia, Samoa. Wendt is of German heritage through his great-grandfather from his patrilineal ancestry, which he reflected it in some of his poetry works. He studied at Ardmore Teacher's College and at the Victoria University of Wellington, graduating with an M.A. in History. His Masters' thesis was about the Mau, Samoa's independence movement from colonialism during the early 1900s. The thesis was titled Guardians and Wards: A study of the origins, causes and the first two years of the Mau in Western Samoa.
He returned in 1965 to Western Samoa, becoming principal of Samoa College. In 1974 he moved to Fiji, where he taught at the University of the South Pacific.
In 1977 Wendt returned home to set up the University of the South Pacific Center in Samoa. He worked closely with the literary journal Mana, and edited in 1975 collections of poems from Fiji, Western Samoa, the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), and the Solomon Islands.
Wendt's epic Leaves of the Banyan Tree (1979), won the 1980 New Zealand Book Awards. He was appointed to the first chair in Pacific literature at University of the South Pacific in Suva. In 1988 he took up a professorship of Pacific studies at the University of Auckland. In 1999 Wendt was visiting Professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. In 2001 he was made Companion of the Order of New Zealand for his services to literature.
Wendt is the subject of a documentary The New Oceania made in New Zealand, by Point of View Productions. Directed by Shirley Horrocks, the film screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival and Hawaii International Film Festival in 2005, TVNZ 2006 and ABC Australia in 2007.