Born in Geraldton, Western Australia, Randolph Stow attended Guildford Grammar School and University of Western Australia. He lectured in English Literature at the University of Adelaide, the University of Western Australia and the University of Leeds. He also worked on an Aboriginal mission as an anthropologist, used as background for To the Islands, and as a patrol officer in the Trobriand Islands, where he suffered a severe attack of malaria. He used this experience in Visitants.
For many years he lived in Suffolk in England, his ancestral county, and he used traditional tales from that area as the basis of The Girl Green as Elderflower; the last decades of his life he spent in nearby Harwich.
His novel To the Islands won the Miles Franklin Award in 1958. He was awarded the Patrick White Award in 1979. As well as producing fiction and poetry, he also wrote libretti for theatrical works by Peter Maxwell Davies.
Because he was a local writer of some standing, a considerable number of Randolph Stow's poems are listed in the State Library of Western Australia online catalogue with indications where they have been anthologised.
He died in England of liver cancer at the age of 74.