Galgut was born in 1963 in Pretoria, South Africa. His family of European stock, had strong ties to the South African judiciary. When he was six years old, Galgut was diagnosed with cancer, a trauma which he has described as “the central, cataclysmic event of my life”. He fell very ill, and spent long stretches of his childhood in hospital. His love of storytelling developed at this time as he lay convalescing in his hospital bed, listening to relatives reading stories to him.
Damon studied drama at the University of Cape Town. He was only 17 when his debut novel, A Sinless Season, was published. His battle with cancer was given fictional form in his next book, a collection of short stories called Small Circle of Beings (1988). The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs (1991) won the CNA Prize, South Africa’s leading literary award. The Quarry (1995) was made into a feature film, which went on to win prizes on the international film festival circuit.
However, it was not until the publication of The Good Doctor in 2003 that Galgut reached a far wider readership. The story of two contrasting characters in a remote, rural hospital in post-apartheid South Africa, The Good Doctor was enthusiastically received by critics. It was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize in 2003 and also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book from the Africa Region.
Galgut has written a number of plays and has taught drama at the University of Cape Town. He has been a resident of Cape Town since the early 1990s. He is a keen traveler and, in fact, wrote much of The Good Doctor in a hotel in Goa. He describes himself as “obsessed” with yoga, and for some time never owned a car nor a television.
His novel, In a Strange Room, was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for fiction. The Guardian reviewer was impressed stating; “I doubt if any book in 2010 will contain more memorable evocations of place than In a Strange Room.” The review continued to describe it as a “beautiful” book that is “strikingly conceived and hauntingly written.”
Damon Galgut is openly homosexual and has stated that this leads him to focus on more male-oriented relationships in his writing.