Maguire was born in Canberra in 1976. She grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney in a church-going family, however she now describes herself as an atheist. Maguire married in her early twenties to Jeff, whom she had known since the age of 14, over the initial objections of her family.
She became a professional writer in her mid twenties after working for the NRMA and Telstra.
She currently lives in Sydney with her husband.
Her articles and essays on sex, religion and culture have been published in newspapers and journals including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, The Age and The Observer. In 2007, the Women's Electoral Lobby awarded her the Edna Ryan Award (Media Category) for her writing about women's issues.
Emily Maguire has served as Writer in Residence at the Djerassi Artists Program in Northern California (2009), as an Asialink Literature Resident in Vietnam (2008) and as a Tasmanian Writers' Centre resident in Hobart (2006). She has an MA in literature and has worked as a mentor to young and emerging writers.
Maguire's first novel, Taming the Beast (2004), was nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize and received a Special Commendation in the Kathleen Mitchell Awards. The novel aroused controversy for its graphic depiction of a sexual relationship between a young woman and her high school teacher. Her second novel, The Gospel According to Luke is an account of a relationship between a young Christian pastor and an atheist abortion clinic worker, and deals with the theme of religious terrorism. It was also awarded a special commendation in the 2008 Kathleen Mitchell Awards.
Her 2008 non-fiction book, Princesses and Pornstars: Sex, Power, Identity, is an examination of how the treatment of young women as fragile and in need of protection can be just as objectifying and damaging to them as pornography and raunch culture. A revised young adult version called Your Skirt's Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice was released in 2010.
More recently, Fishing for Tigers, published in September 2012 by Picador Australia, is Maguire's fourth and arguably most accomplished, novel. Set in present-day Vietnam, it explores issues of exploitation in developing nations – cultural, racial, sexual and economic – placing Australian expats and tourists at the centre of the frame.
In May 2013, Emily Maguire was named as one of The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists.
In 2016 her book An Isolated Incident was published by Picador, Pan MacMillan Press. It was highly commended in the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2017; and was short-listed for the 2017 Stella Prize, the ABIA 2017 Shortlist and the 2017 Miles Franklin literary award.