Born in the UK to parents of Indian descent, Kazim Ali emigrated with his family to Canada and then the United States, where he was raised in an Islamic household. He attended SUNY Albany, receiving a BA in 1993 and an MA in 1995. He received an MFA from New York University in 2001. After graduating, Ali worked as an organizer for a statewide organization advocating greater access to public higher education, funding for the SUNY system, and increased need-based grant aid for students.
His first collection of poetry, The Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005), won the Alice James Books New England/New York Award. He is also the author of The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008), Bright Felon (Wesleyan, 2009) and two novels, Quinn's Passage (Blazevox Books, 2004), and The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009). His critical writings have been collected Orange Alert (University of Michigan Press, 2010) and Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo Press, 2011).
Ali was a writer-in-residence at the Just Buffalo Literary Center and is co-founder and publisher of the small press Nightboat Books. He has taught in the English Department of Monroe Community College and was an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
Currently, he is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.