William E. Wilson was born in 1906, spending much of his childhood in or around Evansville, Indiana. Wilson graduated from Harvard University, served as a lieutenant-commander in the U.S. Navy, and spent two years as a Fulbright Scholar at Aix-Marseille, Grenoble and Nice, France before landing at Baltimore, Maryland where he became Assistant Editor of the Baltimore Sun. He married Ellen Janet Cameron.
In 1950 he left the Baltimore Sun, joining the staff of Indiana University where he became a professor of fiction writing and literature until his retirement in 1972. Indiana University has a William E. Wilson Fellowship in Fiction named in his honor.
His first wife Ellen Janet Cameron died in 1976. He married Hana Benes in 1977, and died in 1988.