Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, Messud grew up in the United States, Australia, and Canada, returning to the United States as a teenager. Messud's mother is Canadian, and her father is a Pied-noir from French Algeria. She was educated at the University of Toronto Schools, and Milton Academy. She did undergraduate and graduate studies at Yale University and Cambridge University, where she met her spouse James Wood. Messud also briefly attended the MFA program at Syracuse University.
Messud's debut novel, When The World Was Steady (1995), was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. In 1999, she published her second book, The Last Life, about three generations of a French-Algerian family. Her 2001 work, The Hunters, consists of two novellas. The Emperor's Children, which Messud wrote while a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 2004–2005, was critically praised and became a New York Times bestseller, as well as being longlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. In April 2013, Messud published her sixth novel, The Woman Upstairs.
Messud has taught creative writing at Amherst College, Kenyon College, University of Maryland, Yale University, in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers in North Carolina, in the Graduate Writing program at The Johns Hopkins University, and at Harvard University. Messud also taught at the Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She is on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College. She has contributed articles to publications such as The New York Review of Books.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters has recognized Messud's talent with both an Addison Metcalf Award and a Strauss Living Award. She was considered for the 2003 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list, although none of the three passports she holds is British. As of 2010–2011, she is a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin / Institute of Advanced Study.
- When the World Was Steady. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 1995. ISBN 978-0-393-35509-3.
- The Last Life: A Novel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1999. ISBN 978-0-547-56385-5.
- The Hunters. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2001. pp. 200–. ISBN 978-0-547-56387-9.
- The Professor's History, Picador, 2006, ISBN 9780330445771
- The Emperor's Children. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 29 August 2006. ISBN 978-0-307-26601-9.
- The Woman Upstairs. Knopf Canada. 30 April 2013. ISBN 978-0-307-40118-2.(longlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize)
- The Burning Girl. W. W. Norton & Company. 2017. ISBN 978-0-393-63502-7.
- van Gelder, Lawrence. "Footlights", The New York Times, January 2, 2003 Section E, p. 1
- Dennis Lythgoe, "Author's cultural diversity enriches her fiction writing," The Deseret News, October 1, 2006.
- Katrina Onstad, "Bestselling novelist Claire Messud returns with The Woman Upstairs," Toronto Life, March 2013
- Mokoto Rich, "For Claire Messud, Good Reviews and Now, Finally, Good Sales," The New York Times, September 6, 2006.
- "Fellow | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University". Radcliffe.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2017-01-22.
- "About | The Common". Thecommononline.org. Retrieved 2017-01-22.
- Messud, Claire. "The Wizard of West Fifty-seventh Street", The Paris Review Daily, March 29, 2012
- "Creative Writing MFA Home". Hunter.cuny.edu. Retrieved 2017-01-22.
- Bedell, Geraldine. "Granta's grotto", The Guardian, January 4, 2003, accessed April 9, 2012
- Wood, Gaby (August 20, 2006). "Here's another fine Messud". The Guardian.