Michael Lederer was born in Princeton, New Jersey, where his father, Ivo Lederer, taught contemporary Russian and East European diplomatic history at Princeton University. His father was a native of what is now Croatia. In 1957 the family moved to New Haven, Connecticut. In 1965 they moved again to Palo Alto, California. Six months later the parents divorced. Lederer attended Palo Alto schools, graduating from Henry M. Gunn High School in 1974. At age 12, Lederer joined the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to work as a child actor in San Francisco. In 1972 he played Gandalf in a production of The Hobbit at Palo Alto Children’s Theatre. The role of Smaug the dragon was played by future best-selling fantasy author Tad Williams. In the mid seventies, Lederer lived in a teepee on a hippie commune called The Land in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. The community was founded by Joan Baez and her then husband David Harris as the Institute for the Study of Non-Violence. An extensive interview with Lederer about his time on The Land can be found on The Land website.
In 1981, Lederer received a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Binghamton University in New York. Lederer was an original acting member of TheatreWorks in Palo Alto. Roles there included Lucullus in Brecht’s The Trial of Lucullus, Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac, Prince Serpuhovsky in Tolstoy’s Strider, and Sigmund Freud in Fraulein Dora. In 1989, Lederer played Claudius in a touring production of Hamlet in London and Hong Kong. During that same year in London he helped break the news of the discovery of The Rose Theatre, the first Elizabethan era theatre ever unearthed. After stumbling upon the archeological dig on London’s South Bank, he alerted The London Evening Standard, issuing the first public call to save the ruins of The Rose from destruction by real estate developers.
In 1984–85, Lederer and his first wife Judy were living in La Herradura, a fishing village in the south of Spain. In a 2014 interview, Lederer told Deutsche Welle television that "I was drunk and stoned one night, climbing up the balconies to our apartment, and I fell from the fourth story down to the parking lot." While recovering with a broken leg in Granada's Hospital Clinico de San Cecilio, he began work on a novella, "Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore." It is the story of a family that must decide whether to sell their small farm to real estate developers. “Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore" was published in 1999 in Barcelona and Cadaqués by a small publishing house called Parsifal Ediciones as “Ya Nada Dura Eternamente." In 2001, the Catalan writer David Marti, reviewing the book in the French literary journal “Remanences,” wrote "No one as yet has been able, like Michael Lederer, to engender the calmness of our life and dreams on the shores of the frail yet powerful Mediterranean Sea." In March 2013, a revised edition of "Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore" was published in both English and German by PalmArt Press in Berlin and presented at the Leipzig Book Fair. The German title is "Nichts ist mehr für die Ewigheit."
In 1998, Lederer co-founded the Safe Haven Museum in Oswego, New York. The museum chronicles the voyage of the only group of Jewish refugees admitted into the United States from Europe during World War II. The 982 refugees included Lederer's father, who had been born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, as well as his aunt and grandparents. Upon arriving by ship in New York harbor, the refugees were immediately interned in a refugee camp at what is now the site of the museum. The story of those 982 refugees is told in the 2001 movie “Haven" starring Natasha Richardson and Hal Holbrook.
In 1997–1999, Lederer founded the 17th century Sir George Downing manuscript collection at Harvard University.
In 2009, Lederer founded the Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Aimed to promote Dubrovnik at home and abroad, DSF's first touring production was Lederer's own play “Mundo Overloadus". "Mundo Overloadus" was also staged in 2010 at Performance Space 122 in New York's East Village. In "Beating the Global Odds", Paul A. Laudicina summarizes and cites Lederer's play, saying "Imagine having at last the entire knowledge of human civilization at your fingertips, and finding that it basically gives you a migraine. Michael Lederer, an American writer who lives in Berlin and Dubrovnik, Croatia, calls this Mundo Overloadus – the title of his recent play that premiered in New York."
Croatian President (and composer) Ivo Josipovic, director Irina Brook, and the artist Genia Chef were among those artists helping launch Dubrovnik Shakespeare Festival. DSF also runs a museum program in conjunction with the Marin Drzic Museum of Dubrovnik.
“The Great Game", a collection of Lederer's short stories and sonnets, was published in Berlin in 2012 by PalmArt Press in both English and German. The book premiered at the Leipzig Book Fair. The newspaper Berliner Morgenpost has called “The Great Game" "Wonderfully ironic…a brilliant chronicle of loss, showing us characters who have fallen through the cracks of our increasingly interconnected world." Die Welt wrote: “In these stories, great dramas and great comedies play out, and as in Shakespeare’s King Lear ‘The worst returns to laughter…' These are fascinating excavations. Michael Lederer is a true archaeologist, among the great American writers.”
The American playwright John Guare, in reference to The Great Game, wrote that "Michael Lederer writes with the intensity of an ancient soul sitting around the campfire spinning ardent tale after tale to warm the winter night. A real treat." The Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin commented that "In the stories of Michael Lederer, it is as if the author deliberately and thoroughly erected a fine building, and then a ruthless movement destroyed it in front of you. These ruins are fascinating."
In February 2014, Berlin's PalmArt Press published Lederer's first full-length novel, "Cadaqués". It is the story of a group of hard-drinking writers and artists set in a little fishing village near the Spanish / French border. Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Picasso, Andre Breton and other great artists once lived in Cadaqués. The U.S. Embassy in Berlin selected Cadaqués as part of its American Literature Series 2014. In an interview about the book on Deutsche Welle television, Lederer described the story as being "about an American writer wrestling with some of the same addiction issues I have wrestled with. I became an expert in stupid, and thanks to all the pot and booze somehow about thirty-five years of my life just evaporated. I figured I may as well put some of that experience to good use." The magazine InKultura wrote about the book, "With literary ferocity, Michael Lederer tells the story of a summer that begins in exceedingly good spirits but ends with a long fall. Cadaqués is a wonderful novel that masterfully upholds a balance between melancholy and joy, with deep empathy for the artistic endeavors but also individual failures of its characters."
In January 2015, Lederer published an article in the American Studies Journal blog announcing his new novel-in-progress, "Don Quixote Saving America". The Dubrovnik Times reported on the first public reading of the manuscript. Lederer told Deutsche Welle television that the new book is about “an insanely optimistic older man, Don Hotey, who picks up a 20-year-old hitchhiker he insists on calling Sancho and together they set out in an old car to get America back to the sweet place Don believes it was in the fifties. Mixed success.”
In March 2016, a collection of Lederer's poetry and very short stories was published in Berlin. When asked about the title of the new book in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR), Lederer explained that there are two photos of himself on the cover, one as a three year old, another as a fifty-nine year old. "If you had spoken to the three year old me about being fifty-nine he would have thought, 'That's like so many forevers away!' But now looking back the fifty-nine year old, reflecting on being three - that was the day before yesterday. So "In The Widdle Wat Of Time" is meant to take a stab at how puzzling and mysterious this thing called time is. It can seem short or long, depending on perspective."
Lederer is a member of the Kunstlerhof group of artists in Berlin, Germany. He is a lifetime member of the National Arts Club in New York City, and is a member of the Players Club, also in New York City. Lederer has lived in Berlin, Germany, since 1998. SInce 2015 he is a Jury member of Boddinale. He and his Polish born wife Katarina also have homes in Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Cadaqués, Spain. Lederer has one son from an earlier marriage, Nicholas, who was born in 1988.