From 1938 to 1943 he was a pupil at the secondary school in Lindau and served in an anti-aircraft unit.
He studied literature, history, and philosophy at the University of Regensburg and the University of Tübingen. He received his doctorate in literature in 1951 for a thesis on Franz Kafka, written under the supervision of Friedrich Beißner.
While studying, Walser worked as a reporter for the Süddeutscher Rundfunk radio station, and wrote his first radio plays.
Beginning in 1953 Walser was regularly invited to conferences of the Gruppe 47 (Group 47), which awarded him a prize him for his story Templones Ende (English: Templone's End) in 1955. His first novel Ehen in Philippsburg (English: Marriages in Philippsburg) was published in 1957 and was a huge success. Since then Walser has been working as a freelance author. His most important work is Ein fliehendes Pferd (English: A Runaway Horse), published 1978, which was both a commercial and critical success.
In 2004 Walser left his long-time publisher Suhrkamp Verlag for Rowohlt Verlag after the death of Suhrkamp director Siegfried Unseld. An unusual clause in his contract with Suhrkamp Verlag made it possible for Walser take publishing rights over all of his works with him. According to Walser, a decisive factor in instigating the switch was the lack of active support by his publisher during the controversy over his novel "Tod eines Kritikers" (English: Death of Critic).
Walser is a member of Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts) in Berlin, Sächsische Akademie der Künste (Saxon Academy of Arts), Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung (German Academy for Language and Poetry) in Darmstadt, and member of the German P.E.N..
essays: Beschreibung einer Form, Versuch iiber Franz Kafka 1961, Erfahrungen und Leseerfahrungen 1965, Heimatkunde 1968, Wie und wovon handelt Literatur 1973 Wer ist ein Schriftsteller 1978, Selbstbewusstsein und Ironie 1981, Messmers Gedanken 1985, Uber Deutschland reden 1988. Poems: Der Grand zur Freude 1978.
Married Kathe Jehle in 1950.