His grandparents had immigrated from the Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to Cleveland, Ohio, and, after the First World War, his grandfather returned to what had become Yugoslavia. Josip Novakovich was born (in 1956) and grew up in the Central Croatian town of Daruvar, studied medicine at the University of Novi Sad. At the age of 20 he left Yugoslavia, continuing his education at Vassar College (B.A.), Yale University (M.Div.), and the University of Texas, Austin (M.A.).
He has published a novel (April Fool's Day), three short story collections (Yolk, Salvation and Other Disasters, Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust), two collections of narrative essays (Apricots from Chernobyl, Plum Brandy: Croatian Journey) and two textbooks (Writing Fiction Step by Step, Fiction Writer's Workshop).