Barbara Anderson became an internationally recognised writer in her sixties, carving her place as one of New Zealand’s most respected and best-selling authors. Born and educated in Hawke's Bay, she graduated with a BSc from Otago University in 1947 and then worked as a medical technologist and teacher. She began her writing career after taking Bill Manhire's Creative Writing Course at Victoria University in 1983, and was subsequently published in Metro, Landfall, Sport and the New Zealand Listener.
Her first collection of short stories, I Think We Should Go into the Jungle (1989), was shortlisted for that year’s Wattie Award, and the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction in 1990. This was followed by Girls High (1990), her first book published in the United Kingdom, to glowing reviews. As 1991 Writing Fellow at Victoria University, Barbara completed Portrait of the Artist's Wife (1992), which won the 1992 Wattie Award and was a bestseller, receiving critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and the United States. She went on to publish nine other titles, again achieving remarkable overseas success.
All her novels were published in the United Kingdom, and garnered high praise, including some of writing's top names. In 1991 Nick Hornby wrote in the Sunday Times on Portrait of the Artist's Wife: "The promise that was evident in Girls High has been splendidly fulfilled, and now it seems only a matter of time before Wellington replaces New York as the literary capital of the world." In 2009, Anderson was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from the University of Otago in 2009.
She received the Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2011.