Debra Magpie Earling was born in Spokane, Washington, and grew up in western Montana. She is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation. In 1986 she graduated from the University of Washington magna cum laude. She received her MA in English and Fine Arts from Cornell University, and now teaches creative writing at the University of Montana. Earling's Lost Journals of Sacajewea—a collaboration with master printer Peter Koch—was published in 2010.
Perma Red, published in 2002, received the Western Writers Association Spur Award for Best Novel of the West, the Mountain and Plains Bookseller Association Award, and the American Book Award. The novel was chosen by Barnes and Noble as part of its "Discover Great New Writers" series.
While the settings in Perma Red are clearly drawn from actual locales, it is understood that the novel—including its places—is ultimately the product of the author's imagination. The intent of this literary map is to enrich the reading experience by interpreting those places, not to render them literally or definitively.