Nina D. Burleigh was born in 1960, in Chicago, Illinois, United States. She was born to the family of professors, Nina D. Burleigh's father is author Robert Burleigh. Burleigh's family moved to the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco when she was seven. After a few months in San Francisco, they moved to Baghdad to live with Burleigh's maternal grandmother. Six months later the family moved to an Amish area of Michigan. They always celebrated Christmas with Santa and a tree, Burleigh stated that Nina Burleigh's family had rejected institutional religion by the time she grew up in the 1970s.