Jones was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and educated at both the College of the Holy Cross and the University of Virginia.
His first book, Lost in the City, is a collection of short stories about the African-American working class in 20th-century Washington, D.C. In the early stories are some who are like first-generation immigrants, as they have come to the city as part of the Great Migration from the rural South.
His second book, The Known World won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Jones's third book, All Aunt Hagar's Children, was published in 2006. Like Lost in the City, it is a collection of short stories that deal with African Americans, mostly in Washington, D.C. Several of the stories had been previously published in The New Yorker magazine. The stories in the book take up the lives of ancillary characters in Lost in the City. In 2007, it was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, which was won by Philip Roth's Everyman.
The stories of Jones' first and third book are connected. As Wyatt Mason wrote in Harper's Magazine in 2006:
"The fourteen stories of All Aunt Hagar's Children revisit not merely the city of Washington but the fourteen stories of Lost in the City. Each new story...and many of them, in their completeness, feel like fully realized little novels...is connected in the same sequence, as if umbilically, to the corresponding story in the first book. Literature is, of course, littered with sequels...its Rabbits and Bechs; its Zuckermans and Kepeshes...but this is not, in the main, Jones’s idea of a reprise. Each revisitation provides a different kind of interplay between the two collections."
Neely Tucker wrote in 2009:
"It's gone almost completely unnoticed, but the two collections are a matched set: There are 14 stories in "Lost," ordered from the youngest to the oldest character, and there are 14 stories in "Hagar's," also ordered from youngest to oldest character. The first story in the first book is connected to the first story in the second book, and so on. To get the full history of the characters, one must read the first story in each book, then go to the second story in each, and so on."
In the spring and fall semesters of 2009, Jones was a visiting professor of creative writing at the George Washington University. He will be joining the English department faculty to teach creative writing in fall 2010.