Jean Devanny, née Crook, was born in Ferntown, New Zealand. Her father William Crook was a miner. She attended school until age 13, when she had to leave to care for her mother and younger siblings. In 1911, she met Francis "Hal" Devanny, also a miner and deeply involved in union affairs. They married the same year and had three children. She learned to play the piano and violin, participated in political activity, and joined Marxist study groups. The family moved to various mining towns before settling in Wellington, where they bought a boarding-house, but it was unsuccessful. By the 1920s, Jean had turned to writing. Her best-known work, The Butcher Shop, was published in 1926. She also published a book of short stories and several more novels, expressing her feelings on motherhood, female consciousness and sexuality, and women's rights, as well as issues of left-wing politics. In 1929, the family moved to Australia, believing that a warmer climate would help their son Karl's weak heart, and became involved in the Communist Party of Australia. Jean was one of the founders of the Writers' League, later the Writers' Association, with Katharine Susannah Prichard and Egon Kisch. In 1935, she became the League's first president. She was a close friend and correspondent of Miles Franklin, Marjorie Barnard and Winifred Hamilton, She had had several disagreements with the leadership of the Communist Party that led to her expulsion in 1940. During the 1950s, she wrote many articles and short stories about the northern Queensland region in which she had settled.