Nair was born in Shornur in Palakkad district of Kerala.Nair was educated in Chennai (Madras) before returning to Kerala, where she gained a BA in English Language and Literature. She lives in Bangalore with her husband, Harishand a son.
Nair was working as the creative director of an advertising agency in Bangalore when she wrote her first book, a collection of short stories called Satyr of the Subway, which she sold to Har-Anand Press. The book won her a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Nair's second book was published by Penguin India, and was the first book by an Indian author to be published by Picador USA. A bestselling author of fiction and poetry, Nair's novels The Better Man and Ladies Coupe have been translated into 21 languages. Among Nair's early commercial works were pieces she penned in the late 90's for The Bangalore Monthly magazine (now called "080" Magazine), published by Explocity in a column titled 'The Economical Epicurean'
Thereafter followed Nair's novel The Better Man (2000) which also has been published in Europe and the United States. In 2002, appeared the collection of poems Malabar Mind, and in 2003 Where the Rain is Born - Writings about Kerala which she has edited. Anita Nair's second novel Ladies Coupé from 2001, has turned out to be an even greater success than the first both among critics and readers in so far 15 countries outside India: from USA to Turkey, from Poland to Portugal.
In 2002, "Ladies Coupé" was elected as one of the five best in India. The novel is about women's conditions in a male dominated society, told with great insight, solidarity and humour.Ladies Coupe (2001) was rated as one of 2002's top five books of the year and was translated into more than twenty-five languages around the world.
Nair has also written The Puffin Book of Myths and Legends (2004), a children's book on myths and legends. Nair has also edited Where the Rain is Born (2003). Nair's writings about Kerala and her poetry has been included in The Poetry India Collection and a British Council Poetry Workshop Anthology. Her poems appeared in many prestigious poetry anthologies like The Dance of the Peacock: An Anthology of English Poetry from India,featuring 151 Indian English poets, edited by Vivekanand Jha and published by Hidden Brook Press,Canada.
Her sixth novel Idris: Keeper of The Light (2014) is a historical and geographical novel about a Somalian trader who visited Malabar in 1659 AD.