Cynthia Ozick was born in New York City, the second of two children. She moved to the Bronx with her Russian-born parents, Celia (Regelson) and William Ozick, proprietors of the Park View Pharmacy in the Pelham Bay neighborhood. As a girl, Ozick helped to deliver prescriptions. Growing up in the Bronx, she remembers stones thrown at her and being called a Christ-killer as she ran past the two churches in her neighborhood. In school she was publicly shamed for refusing to sing Christmas carols. She attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan. She earned her B.A. from New York University and went on to study at Ohio State University, where she completed an M.A. in English literature, focusing on the novels of Henry James.
Ozick is married to Bernard Hallote, a lawyer. Their daughter, Rachel Hallote, is an associate professor of history at SUNY Purchase and head of its Jewish studies program. Ozick is the niece of the Hebraist Abraham Regelson. She lives in Westchester County, New York.
Ozick's fiction and essays are often about Jewish American life, but she also writes about politics, history, and literary criticism. In addition, she has written and translated poetry. The Holocaust and its aftermath is also a dominant theme. Much of her work explores the disparaged self, the reconstruction of identity after immigration, trauma and movement from one class to another.
Ozick says that writing is not a choice but “a kind of hallucinatory madness. You will do it no matter what. You can’t not do it.” She sees the “freedom in the delectable sense of making things up” as coexisting with the “torment” of writing.
In 1971, Ozick received the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for her short story collection, The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories. In 1997, she received the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Fame and Folly. Three of her stories won first prize in the O. Henry competition.