Thomas M. Disch was born on 2 February 1940 in Des Moines, Iowa. He attended Catholic school but was generally a free-thinker and often in conflict with the religious authorities around him. He worked as a library page when he was 15 and was there exposed to a lecture by a member of the Ballets Russe, leading him to take ballet classes for two years; he credits this experience with teaching him self-discipline and giving him a chance to meet other non-conformists.

After high school he went into the Army briefly but was soon discharged. Then he attended NYU for a while, but left the university after making his first writing sale, the science fiction story "The Double Timer" to Fantastic Magazine. He worked in advertising on and off while writing and making a name for himself in the 1960s "new wave" of science fiction. His 1969 novel Camp Concentration is an SF classic. By 1970 he was also publishing poetry and soon would be writing in other fiction genres. He and his longtime companion Charles Naylor also co-edited several anthologies in the 1970s.

In 1978 he wrote the children's story "The Brave Little Toaster" which was rejected by children's publishers, eventually appearing in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction and being optioned by Disney for an animated movie which would come out in 1987. (He also wrote the book which became the first sequel, "The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars.") He also wrote poetry, book reviews, theater criticism, plays, including one, The Cardinal Detoxes, which the Roman Catholic diocese of New York attempted to stop performances of in a building the Church owned.

Disch committed suicide on July 4, 2008, in his New York City apartment. Friends reported that he had been depressed since Charles Naylor died in 2005. Naylor's illness had used up their savings; their house in Barryville, New York had been flooded and "succumbed to mildew," in the words of the Telegraph obituary; and Naylor had been the named tenant on their rent-controlled New York apartment, so Disch was left in fear of eviction. “He was simply ground down by the sequence of catastrophes,” his friend the novelist Norman Rush, said to the New York Times.