Ruth Prawer was born to a Jewish family in Germany; her family fled the Nazis to England. In 1951, she married married Cyrus H. Jhabvala, an Indian architect. The couple moved to India and raised three daughters there. Since 1955, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has written a dozen novels, many of them set in India. Her first of many collaborations with director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant on an original project was for 1965's Shakespeare Wallah, a film now widely regarded as a classic. She has also adapted such novels as Howard's End and A Room with a View for the Merchant Ivory team, as well as writing original screenplays.
A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Jhabvala has also had three short story collections published, in addition to her novels. In 1984 she received a MacArthur Fellowship and in 1994, she received the Writers Guild of America's Screen Laurel Award, which is the Guild's highest honor. In 1986, she became a naturalized citizen of the USA.