July was born in Barre, Vermont, in 1974, the daughter of Lindy Hough and Richard Grossinger. Her parents, who taught at Goddard College at the time, are both writers.
In 1974 they founded North Atlantic Books, a publisher of alternative health, martial arts, and spiritual titles. Her father was Jewish, and her mother was Protestant. July was encouraged to work on her short fiction by author and friend of a friend Rick Moody.
Miranda grew up in Berkeley, California, where she first began writing plays and staging them at the all-ages club 924 Gilman. She attended The College Preparatory School in Oakland for high school. She later attended UC Santa Cruz, dropping out in her sophomore year. After leaving college, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and took up performance art. Her performances were successful; she has been quoted as saying she has not worked a day job since she was 23 years old.
Beginning in 1995, while residing in Portland, July began a project called Joanie4Jackie (originally called "Big Miss Moviola") that solicited short films by women, which she compiled onto video cassettes, using the theme of a chain letter. She then sent the cassette to the participants, and to subscribers to the series, and offered them for sale to others interested. In addition to the chain letter series, July began a second series called the Co-Star Series, in which she invited friends from larger cities to select a group of films outside of the chain letter submissions. The curators included Miranda July, Rita Gonzalez, and Astria Suparak. The Joanie4Jackie series also screened at film festivals and DIY movie events. So far, thirteen editions have been released, the latest in 2002. In 2017 the Getty Research Institute announced that they had acquired an archive of Joanie4Jackie as a donation from July. The collection includes more than 200 titles from the 1990s and 2000s, videos from Joanie4Jackie events, booklets, posters, hand-written letters from participants, and other documentation. Thomas W. Gaehtgens, the director of the Getty Research Institute, stated that the acquisition is “an esteemed addition to our Special Collections that connects to work by many important 20th century artists who are also represented in our archives, such as Eleanor Antin, Yvonne Rainer and Carolee Schneemann.”
Filmmaker Magazine rated her number one in their "25 New Faces of Indie Film" in 2004. After winning a slot in a Sundance workshop, she developed her first feature-length film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, which opened in 2005. The film won The Caméra d'Or prize in The Cannes Festival 2005 as well as the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Best First Feature at the Philadelphia Film Festival, Feature Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
At her speaking engagement at the Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco's Mission District on May 16, 2007, July mentioned that she was currently working on a new film. This film was originally titled "Satisfaction" but was later renamed The Future, with July in a lead role. The film premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Wayne Wang consulted with July about aspects of his feature-length film The Center of the World, for which she received a "story by" credit.
On June 29, 2016, July was one of 683 artists and executives invited to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences as a writer.
She recorded her first EP for Kill Rock Stars in 1996, titled Margie Ruskie Stops Time, with music by The Need. After that, she released two more full-length LPs, 10 Million Hours A Mile in 1997 and Binet-Simon Test in 1998, both released on Kill Rock Stars. In 1999 she made a split EP with IQU, released on K Records. On their 2010 EP Distractions, Australian band Regurgitator released a track titled "Miranda July" that talks of singer Quan Yeomans writing a letter to her.
July has acted in many of her own videos, including Atlanta, The Amateurist, Nest of Tens, Are You The Favorite Person of Anyone?, and her films Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future. She also made a small appearance in the film Jesus' Son. She appeared in an episode of Portlandia in 2012.
In 1998, July made her first full-length multimedia performance piece, Love Diamond, in collaboration with composer Zac Love and with help from artist Jamie Isenstein; she called it a "live movie." She performed it at venues around the country, including the New York Video Festival, The Kitchen, and Yoyo A Go Go in Olympia. She created her next major full-length performance piece, The Swan Tool, in 2000, also in collaboration with Love, with digital production work by Mitsu Hadeishi. She performed this piece in venues around the world, including the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
In 2006, after completing her first feature film, she went on to create another multimedia piece, Things We Don’t Understand and Definitely Are Not Going To Talk About, which she performed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.
Her short story The Boy from Lam Kien was published in 2005 by Cloverfield Press, as a special-edition book with illustration by Elinor Nissley and Emma Hedditch. Her next story, Something That Needs Nothing, was published in the September 18, 2006, issue of The New Yorker. No One Belongs Here More Than You is a 224-page collection of her stories which was released on May 15, 2007. It won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award on September 24, 2007.
With artist Harrell Fletcher, July founded the online arts project called Learning to Love You More (2002–2009). The project's website offered assignments to artists whose submissions became part of "an ever-changing series of exhibitions, screenings and radio broadcasts presented all over the world". In addition to its Internet presentations, Learning to Love You More also compiled exhibitions for the Whitney Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and other hosts. A book version of the project's online art was released in 2007. Starting May 1st, 2009 the project's website stopped accepting assignment submissions. In 2010 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art acquired the website, in order to preserve it as an archive of the project online.
In 2013 she started We Think Alone, an art project involving Sheila Heti, Danh Vo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lena Dunham and Kirsten Dunst among others where some friends share with July a private mail on a specific topic.
In 2014 she created an iOS app, "Somebody", which allows users to compose a message to be delivered to someone else in-person, or to deliver someone else's message in-person. When you send your friend a message through Somebody, it goes — not to your friend — but to the Somebody user nearest your friend. This person (likely a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in. Somebody is a far-reaching public art project that incites performance and twists our love of avatars and outsourcing — every relationship becomes a three-way. The project was funded by Miu Miu. The app closed on 31 October 2015.
In March 2015, July premiered her performance work New Society as part of the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival. In the program for the performance, July requested the audience not share details of the show, stating it is now "a rare sensation to sit down in a theater with no idea what will happen.”
July's collection of short vignettes was published by Scribner in 2007. In her review for the New York Times, reviewer Sheelah Kolhatkar gave the collection a mixed review writing, "A handful of these stories are sweet and revealing, although in many cases the attempt to create “art” is too self-conscious, and the effort comes off as pointlessly strange."
As of 2015 the collection has more than 200,000 copies in circulation and won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.
July's first novel The First Bad Man was published by Scribner in January 2015. The narrative centers around Cheryl Glickman, a middle-aged woman in crisis whose life abruptly changes course when a young woman moves into her home.
In her review for the New York Times Book Review, reviewer Lauren Groff writes The First Bad Man "makes for a wry, smart companion on any day. It’s warm. It has a heartbeat and a pulse. This is a book that is painfully alive."
July dated Radio Sloan from The Need when she first moved to Portland. She went on to date K Records founder Calvin Johnson. July is married to the artist and film director Mike Mills, with whom she has a son.
Johanna Fateman, of the post-punk band Le Tigre, has referred to July as being her "best friend from high school".
In a 2007 interview with Bust magazine, July spoke of the importance which feminism has had in her life, saying, "What's confusing about [being a feminist]? It's just being pro-your ability to do what you need to do. It doesn't mean you don't love your boyfriend or whatever...When I say 'feminist', I mean that in the most complex, interesting, exciting way!"Jack and Al (Fall 2002) (Mississippi Review)
The Moves (Spring 2003) (Tin House)
This Person (Spring 2003) (Bridge Magazine)
Birthmark (Spring 2003) (Paris Review)
Frances Gabe's Self Cleaning House (Fall 2003) (Nest Magazine)
It Was Romance (Fall 2003) (Harvard Review)
Making Love in 2003 (Fall 2003) (Paris Review)
The Man on the Stairs (Spring/Summer 2004) (Fence Magazine])
The Shared Patio (Winter 2005) (Zoetrope: All-Story)
Something That Needs Nothing (September 18, 2006) (The New Yorker)
Majesty (September 28, 2006) (Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern)
The Swim Team (January 2007) (Harper's Magazine)
Roy Spivey (June 11, 2007) (The New Yorker)
The Metal Bowl (September 4, 2017) (The New Yorker)
The Boy from Lam Kien (July 1, 2005) (Cloverfield Press)
The Dead bones (October 20, 2005) (Cloverfield Press)
No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories (May 15, 2007) (Scribner)
Learning to Love You More (with Harrell Fletcher) (Fall/Autumn 2007) (Prestel Publishing)
Corpse Tale (May 30, 2009) (McSweeney's, Irregulars)
It Chooses You (November 15, 2011) (McSweeney's, Irregulars)
The First Bad Man: A Novel (January 13, 2015) (Scribner)
10 Million Hours a Mile (1997) (Kill Rock Stars)
The Binet-Simon Test (1998) (Kill Rock Stars)
Margie Ruskie Stops Time EP (1996) with music by The Need (Kill Rock Stars)
Girls on Dates split EP with IQU (1999) (K Records)
I Started Out With Nothing and I Still Have Most of It Left
Featured in Emily B. Kingan's documentary The Portland Girl Convention (1996)
A Shape Called Horse on Video Fanzine #1 (Kill Rock Stars)
Atlanta (1996) on Audio-Cinematic Mix Tape (Peripheral Produce)
The Amateurist (1998) part of Joanie4Jackie4Ever
Nest of Tens (2000) (Peripheral Produce)
Getting Stronger Every Day (2001) on Peripheral Produce’s All-Time Greatest Hits
Narrator on Matt McCormick's The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (2001) on Peripheral Produce’s All-Time Greatest Hits (Peripheral Produce)
Haysha Royko (2003)
Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (2005) (Wholphin (DVD))
Things We Don't Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About (Spring 2007)
Many of these works are distributed by the Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.Jesus' Son (1999) (Lions Gate Entertainment) (acted)
The Center of the World (2001) (co-wrote story)
Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) (wrote, directed, and acted)
The Future (2011) (wrote, directed, and acted)
Sleater-Kinney – "Get Up"
Blonde Redhead – "Top Ranking"
Love Diamond (1998–2000)
The Swan Tool (2000–2002)
How I Learned to Draw (2002–2003)
Things We Don't Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About (2006–present)
Eleven Heavy Things (2009)
New Society (2015)