Abbott was born October 17, 1947 in the Panama Canal Zone. His father, a Colonel in the Army, at last settled his family in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The stark desert landscape would become very important in Abbott's fiction.
Abbott received bachelor's and master's degrees from New Mexico State University. After studying at Columbia College, he earned his Master's of Fine Arts from the University of Arkansas in 1977. In addition to lecturing on the art of fiction writing, Abbott has taught at several colleges, including Colorado College, Washington University, Rice University and Case Western Reserve University, where he lectured from 1976 to 1989. He is currently a Humanities Distinguished Professor in English at Ohio State University's main campus in Columbus, Ohio.
His many short stories and reviews, as well as articles on American Literature and popular culture, have appeared in such journals and magazines as Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, The New York Times Book Review, The Southern Review, Epoch, Boulevard, Crawdaddy, and The North American Review. His fiction has been often reprinted in The Best American Short Stories and The Prize Stories: The O'Henry Awards. He has twice won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was awarded a Major Artist Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council in 1991. He was also recipient of the 2004 Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award. His latest collection of stories, All Things, All at Once: New & Selected Stories, was published by Norton in June 2006.
Although he has made occasional attempts at novel writing, Abbott has devoted himself almost exclusively to the craft of the short story. Character development is particularly important to Abbott. To him, "character is what we are in the dark."
Abbott's many influences include R.V. Cassill. Although Abbott arrived on the fiction scene during a time when minimalism was in fashion, critic William Giraldi said of Abbott's debut, "The Heart Never Fits Its Wanting is an orgy of style, one that performs the magic trick of being at once inebriated and exact...his narrators akin to world-class drinkers who can down a fifth of Jim Beam and still stand straight."