Shair was born in Aurangabad, British India on 14 July 1926. His mother died when he was three years old. At a very young age, he was exposed to the leading leftist writers of that time.
Shair worked for All India Radio before migrating to Pakistan in 1951 to begin his career with Radio Pakistan in Karachi. His first poetry book "Aag Main Phool" was published in 1956 and received the Presidential Award in 1958. Later, he started his successful career as a lyricist, receiving Nigar Awards for the films- Aanchal (1962 film) and Daaman (1963 film) respectively. In 1966, Shair produced and directed "Lori" (Lullaby) starring Muhammad Ali, Zeba and Santosh Kumar. The movie completed its Golden Jubilee after playing for 52 weeks in Karachi.
Shair wrote the first few evergreen songs in the cinema of Pakistan. Some of the songs include Na Chura Sakogay Daaman, Jaag Utha Hai Sara Watan, Khudawanda Yeh Kaisi Aag , Jab Raat Dhali, Har Qadam Per Nit Naye Sanchay Main Dhal Jatay Hain Log , Tujh Ko Maloom Naheen and many others.
His collection of poetry includes "Mitti Ka Qarz," "Tashnagi Ka Safar," "Haroon Ki Awaz," which received Allama Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Award  and "Harf Harf Roshni." Shair is the only poet in Urdu literary history who wrote an autobiography titled "Aaina Sar Aaina." Over 400 pages, the autobiography is composed of as many as 3,500 couplets. In 2007, he published a collection of all of his poetry as "Kuliyat-e-Shair".
Shair also had his work translated into different languages. A poem on World Peace named "Flower in Flames" was translated by Rajinder Singh Verma. Verma also translated another of his books named "Every World Aglow".
Shair's research work for Pakistan Television titled Aqeedat ka safar (700 years of Na'at poetry) has also been published. Another series shed valuable light on 50 years of Naat poetry in Pakistan. His other TV programmes included Ghazal uss nay chheri (700 years of Urdu poetry), Khushboo ka safar (500 years of regional poets' Urdu poetry), Mohabbaton kay safeer (500 years of Sindhi poets' Urdu poetry) and Lub aazad (40 years of agitational poetry).
In 1976, he joined Sindh University as an associate Professor of Urdu Literature on the insistence of his friend and poet Shaikh Ayaz. He quit the film industry as his children grew older, due to the fact that the film industry was not considered a respectable institute. In his words: “Besides, my wife had been insisting that I switch to some 'decent' profession, even if it is a low-paid one, as she feared the grown-up children might follow in my footsteps and enter the film world. Her fears were not unfounded as one day I also observed my son Roshan Khayal, a university student then, sporting well-known actor Mohammad Ali's hairdo."
The other awards for his literary and film efforts include Makhdoom Mohiuddin international award in Delhi in 1989, Life Achievement Award in Washington, D.C. in 2001, Pride of Performance Award in 2002, Naqoosh Award, Allama Iqbal Award, the Long Life Literary Award in New Jersey in 1994 and the Inventor of Salassi (three-line poem) Award in Chicago in 1993.
In 2002, Houston-based radio station Young Tarang released a CD based on Shair's poetry which included songs sung by famous Pakistani singers and recitations by Shair.
On 27 March 2010, a literary evening was organized in Hyderabad, Sindh by Kamaluddin Memorial Society in honor of Shair. The Vice-Chancellor of Sindh University, Dr. Nazir A. Mughal announced the establishment of "Himayat Ali Shair Chair" in recognition of his services to literature. He also announced five scholarships of Rs 5,000 each per month for research on literary contributions of Himayat Ali Shair for M.Phil/PhD degrees. A resolution was adopted on the occasion called for naming a road in the city after Himayat Ali Shair.
Shair married Meraj Naseem in 1949, they were together for 52 years when his wife died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada of liver cancer. She is buried in Pickering, Ontario, Canada where their children live.
Shair spends most of his time in Pakistan and Canada where his children live and frequently visits his hometown in India, where his siblings reside. Currently, he is working on his autobiography in prose.