Mahmud Rahman was born in Dhaka, what was then East Pakistan. Living on Mymensingh Road, now Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, the road that led from the airport into the heart of the city, he grew up witnessing the motorcades of royalty and dictators, the passing of horse carriages in favor of buses and auto rickshaws, and alternating cycles of mass marches and military trucks. He was active in the movement for the liberation of Bangladesh. During the 1971 war, he escaped Dhaka, first for rural Bikrampur, later Calcutta. After the war, he went to the U.S. where he attended the University of Tulsa and Brandeis University. In the U.S. he lived in Boston during the racial violence of the 70s, in Detroit during the collapse of the auto industry in the 80s, and in the San Francisco Bay Area during the high tech boom and bust of the 90s. The times and places he has lived through feed his writing concerns.
He wrote his first short story in 1994 and took up creative writing in earnest in 1996. In May 2004, he graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland, California.