Andre Jules Dubus II was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the youngest child of Katherine (Burke) and André Jules Dubus, a Cajun-Irish Catholic family. His two elder siblings are Kathryn and Beth. His surname is pronounced "Duh-BYOOSE", with the accent falling on the second syllable, as in "profuse". Dubus grew up in the Bayou country in Lafayette, Louisiana, and was educated by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order that emphasized literature and writing. Dubus graduated from nearby McNeese State College in 1958 as a journalism and English major. Dubus then spent six years in the Marine Corps, eventually rising to the rank of captain. At this time he married his first wife and started a family. After leaving the Marine Corps, Dubus moved with his wife and four children to Iowa City, where he later graduated from the University of Iowa's Iowa Writers' Workshop with an MFA in creative writing, studying under Richard Yates. The family then moved to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where Dubus would spend the bulk of his academic career teaching literature and creative writing at Bradford College. He admired Hemingway, Chekhov, and Cheever.
Dubus's life was marked by several tragedies. His daughter was raped as a young woman, causing Dubus many years of paranoia over his loved ones' safety. Dubus carried personal firearms to protect himself and those around him, until the night in the late 1980s, when he almost shot a man who was in a drunken argument with his son, Andre, outside a bar in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Dubus was seriously injured in a car accident on the night of July 23, 1986. He was driving from Boston to his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and he stopped to assist two disabled motorists—brother and sister Luis and Luz Santiago. As Dubus assisted the injured Luz to the side of the highway, an oncoming car swerved and hit them. Luis was killed instantly; Luz survived because Dubus had pushed her out of the way. Dubus was critically injured and both his legs were crushed. After a series of unsuccessful operations, his right leg was amputated above the knee, and he eventually lost the use of his left leg. Dubus spent three years undergoing a series of painful operations and extensive physical therapy. Despite his efforts to walk with a prosthesis, chronic infections confined him to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life, and he battled clinical depression as a result of his condition. Over the course of these struggles Dubus's third wife left him, taking with her their two young daughters.
To help Dubus with mounting medical bills, Andre's friends and fellow writers Kurt Vonnegut and John Updike held a special literary benefit. Dubus continued to write, producing two books of essays and a collection of short stories, and conducted a weekly writers' workshop in his home, meeting with a group of young writers.
Dubus spent his later years in Haverhill, until his death from a heart attack in 1999, at age 62. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, near where he lived, in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
He married three times and fathered six children. His son Andre Dubus III is also an author, whose most noted book is the novel House of Sand and Fog (1999), both a finalist for the National Book Award and the basis for an Academy Award-nominated film of the same title. In 2011, Andre Dubus III published a memoir of his life, Townie, which tells of growing up in Haverhill and deals extensively with his relationship with his father and the impoverished conditions faced by his mother and siblings following her divorce from Andre Dubus.
Although he did write one novel, The Lieutenant, in 1967, Dubus considered himself primarily as a writer of short fiction. Throughout his career, he published most of his work in small, distinguished literary journals such as Ploughshares and Sewanee Review. Later in his career he placed stories in magazines such as The New Yorker and Playboy. Andre remained loyal to a small publishing firm run by David R. Godine that published his first works. When larger book publishers approached him with more lucrative deals, Dubus stayed with Godine, switching only to Alfred A. Knopf towards the end of his career to assist with medical bills.
Dubus's collections include: Separate Flights (1975), Adultery and Other Choices (1977), Finding a Girl in America (1980), The Times Are Never So Bad (1983), Voices from the Moon (1984), The Last Worthless Evening (1986), Selected Stories (1988), Broken Vessels (1991), Dancing After Hours (1996), and Meditations from a Movable Chair (1998). Several writing awards are named after Dubus. His papers are archived at McNeese State University and Xavier University in Louisiana and at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin.
Thanks to the work of the italian writer and editor and translator Nicola Manuppelli, Andre Dubus is now being rediscovered in Italy, where at intervals of a year all his works are being published by Mattioli 1885. Nicola Manuppelli has translated and edited six collections of short stories by Andre Dubus, including "Separate Flights" ("Voli separati"), "The Times Are Never So Bad" ("I tempi non sono mai così cattivi"), "Voices From The Moon" ("Voci dalla luna"), "We Don't Live Here Anymore" ("Non abitiamo più qui"), "Finding a girl in America" ("Il padre d'inverno") "Dancing After Hours" ("Ballando a notte fonda"). For the publication of these works, Nicola Manuppelli made several readings all over the country and involved several American literary voices, asking them a tribute on the work of Andre Dubus (Peter Orner, Dennis Lehane, Tobias Wolff, among others).
After Dubus's death, his story Killings was adapted into Todd Field's In the Bedroom (2001) starring Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, and Marisa Tomei . The film was nominated for five Academy Awards – Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role (Wilkinson), Actress in a Leading Role (Spacek), Actress in a Supporting Role (Tomei), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published (Robert Festinger & Field).
The 2004 movie We Don't Live Here Anymore is based upon two of Dubus' novellas, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" and "Adultery." L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award (1975)
The PEN/Malamud Award [Rea Award for the Short Story] for excellence in short fiction (1991)
The Jean Stein Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
The Lawrence L. Winship Award
Fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations
Updike, John (4 February 1985). "Books: Ungreat Lives". The New Yorker. 60 (51): 94–101. Review of Voices from the Moon.
Bodwell, Joshua (July–August 2008). "The Art of Reading Andre Dubus: We Don’t Have to Live Great Lives". Poets & Writers.