Zindel was born in Tottenville, Staten Island, New York to Paul Zindel, a policeman, and Beatrice Frank, a nurse; his sister, Betty Hagen, was a year and a half older than him. Paul Zindel Sr. ran away with his mistress when Zindel was two, leaving the trio to move around Staten Island, living in various houses and apartments.
Through his teen years he wrote plays, though he trained as a chemist at Wagner College and spent six months working at Allied Chemical as a chemical writer after graduating. Zindel took a creative writing course with the playwright Edward Albee while he was an undergraduate. He later quit and worked as a high school science teacher at Tottenville High School on Staten Island.
In 1964, he wrote The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, his first and most successful play. The play ran off-Broadway in 1970, and on Broadway in 1971, and he received the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work. It was also made into a 1972 movie by 20th Century Fox. Charlotte Zolotow, then a vice-president at Harper & Row, contacted him about writing for her book label. Zindel wrote 39 books, all of them aimed at children or young adults.
Many of these were set in his home town of Staten Island, New York. They tended to be semi-autobiographical, focusing on teenage misfits with abusive or neglectful parents. Zindel himself grew up in a single-parent household, his mother worked at various occupations: hat check girl, shipyard worker, dog breeder, hot dog vendor, and finally licensed practical nurse, often boarding terminally ill patients at home. They moved frequently, and his mother often engaged in "get-rich-quick" schemes that did not succeed. His father abandoned them. This upbringing was most accurately depicted in Confessions of a Teenage Baboon.
Despite the often dark subject matter of his books, which deal with loneliness, loss, and the effects of abuse, they are also filled with humor. Many of his novels have wacky titles, such as My Darling, My Hamburger, or Confessions of A Teenage Baboon.
The Pigman, first published in 1968, is widely taught in American schools, and also made it on to the list of most frequently banned books in America in the 1990s, because of what some deem offensive language.
Zindel was married to Bonnie Hildebrand from 1973, divorcing her in 1998. They had two children; novelist and actor Lizabeth Zindel, and son David, a filmmaker. Paul Zindel died in New York City from lung cancer in 2003, at the Jacob Perlow Hospice in Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.. He is buried Moravian Cemetery, in Staten Island, New York.
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, 1965.
Let Me Hear You Whisper
The Ladies Should Be In Bed
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, 1967
The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild, 1972
Every 17 Minutes the Crowd Goes Crazy
Ladies At The Alamo, 1977
Amulets Against the Dragon Forces, 1999
The Pigman, New York: Harper, 1968.
My Darling, My Hamburger, New York: Harper, 1969.
I Never Loved Your Mind, New York: Harper, 1970.
I Love My Mother, New York: Harper, 1975.
Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball!, New York: Harper, 1976.
Confessions of a Teenage Baboon, New York: Harper, 1977.
The Undertaker's Gone Bananas, New York: Harper, 1978.
A Star for the Latecomer (with Bonnie Zindel), New York: Harper, 1980.
The Pigman's Legacy, New York: Harper, 1980.
The Girl Who Wanted a Boy, New York: Harper, 1981.
To Take a Dare (with Crescent Dragonwagon), New York: Harper, 1982.
Harry and Hortense at Hormone High, New York: Harper, 1985.
The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman, New York: Harper, 1987.
A Begonia for Miss Applebaum, New York: Harper, 1989.
The Pigman and Me, New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Attack of the Killer Fishsticks, New York: Bantam, 1993.
Fifth Grade Safari, New York: Bantam, 1992.
Fright Party, New York: Bantam, 1993.
David & Della, New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
One Hundred Percent Laugh Riot, New York: Bantam, 1994.
Loch, New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
The Doom Stone, New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
Raptor, New York: Hyperion, 1998.
Reef of Death, New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
Rats, New York: Hyperion, 1999.
The Gadget, New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Night of the Bat, New York: Hyperion, 2001.
The Scream Museum, New York: Hyperion, 2001.
The Surfing Corpse, New York: Hyperion, 2001.
The E-Mail Murders, New York: Hyperion, 2001.
The Lethal Gorilla, New York: Hyperion, 2001.
The Square Root of Murder, 2002.
Death on the Amazon, 2002.
The Gourmet Zombie, 2002.
The Phantom of 86th Street, 2002.
The Houdini 'Whodunit, 2002.
Death by CD, 2003.
The Petrified Parrot, 2003.
Camp Megadeath, 2003.
Zindel wrote the screenplay for the 1974 film version of the musical Mame, which starred Lucille Ball. He also wrote the screenplay for Up the Sandbox which starred Barbra Streisand. In 1985 Paul Zindel wrote the screenplay for Runaway Train which starred John Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca De Mornay which was nominated for three Oscars. He also wrote television adaptations of Babes in Toyland which starred Keanu Reeves & Drew Barrymore; he also wrote the screenplay for Alice in Wonderland which had an all-star cast; and also wrote the script for the 1989 television adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.