The son of a Norwegian immigrant, Jack Nelson grew up in Bellflower, Southern California. He attended Fullerton Junior College, then while at Brigham Young University in Utah he fell in love with the wild places of that state, where he still writes, hunts and fishes.
Nelson graduated from BYU in 1954 with a degree in Journalism. He then studied American literature at the University of Utah, worked as a city desk reporter on the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, edited a weekly in California, and returned to BYU as a television-radio writer for their PBS affiliate station KBYU-TV. He quit that job to spend three months in Mexico City to write his first novel, which was never published.
Following his sabbatical in Mexico, Nelson returned to Utah to marry Patrice, the gorgeous coed he had been courting for a year. After teaching at BYU for a year, he and Patrice spent two years at the University of Missouri, where he received a doctorate in journalism. He then taught at California State-Humboldt, the University of Utah—and ended up back at BYU teaching journalism for 25 years. He is now an emeritus professor and currently resides in Provo, Utah, with his wife.
Since retirement, Nelson has also built a career as a historical fiction novelist, with many of his novels being set in the Utah landscape he has come to love. In 2009 he released his most recent book, To Die in Kanab.In 2011, Nelson was recognized for his excellent writing with the third place International Book Award in the Non-Fiction Narrative category for his work, Flashes in the Night: The Sinking of the Estonia. The book relates the stories of the survivors of the Estonia, an overnight ferry, which sunk in a storm on the Baltic Sea in 1944.
- BYU Magazine - Sinking in the Night (Winter 2012)
- The Daily Universe - Emeritus professor honored for sunken-ship tale (12 Sept 2011)
- The Daily Herald - Book Buzz: 'To Die in Kanab' (18 June 2009)