Hilary Masters was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of poet Edgar Lee Masters, and his wife Ellen Frances Coyne Masters. He attended Davidson College and did military service in the U.S. Navy just after World War II as a naval correspondent. He completed his bachelor's degree at Brown University in 1952. He went to work for Bennett & Pleasant, a firm of New York press agents, and then became an independent theatrical press agent for Off Broadway and summer theaters during 1953 to 1956. That year, he returned to journalism with the Hyde Park Record in New York. In the 1960s he ran as a Democratic candidate for a New York Assembly seat, and worked as a freelance photographer.
For 32 years, he was a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wrote novels, short stories, essays and a memoir, Last Stands: Notes from Memory (1982). In 1994, he married as his second wife writer Kathleen George.