Atxaga was born in Asteasu, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, in 1951. He received a diploma in economics from the University of Bilbao, and studied philosophy at the University of Barcelona. He worked as an economist, bookseller, professor of the Basque language, a publisher, and a radio scriptwriter until 1980 when he dedicated himself completely to writing.
His first text was published in 1972 in an anthology of Basque authors. His first short story, Ziutateaz ("About The City"), was published in 1976. His first collection of poetry, Etiopia ("Ethiopia"), appeared in 1978. He has written plays, song lyrics, novels and short stories. His book of short stories, Obabakoak ("Individuals and things of Obaba"), published in 1988 won him much fame and several prizes, such as Spain's National Literature Prize. So far, the book has been translated into more than 20 languages.
Atxaga generally writes in the Basque language, Euskara, but translates his works into Spanish as well. Following the example of Obabakoak, several of his other works have been translated into other languages.
- Obabakoak (1988) (English language edition, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, published in 1992 by Hutchinson, London)
- Behi euskaldun baten memoriak ("Memoirs of a Basque Cow", Pamiela, 1991)
- Gizona bere bakardadean (Pamiela, 1993; "The Lone Man", English version by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvill 1996)
- Zeru horiek (1996; "The Lone Woman", English version by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvill, 1999)
- Soinujolearen semea (2003; "The Accordionist's Son", English version by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvill Secker, 2007)
- Zazpi etxe Frantzian (2009; "Seven Houses in France", English version by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvill Secker, 2011)
- Borrokaria (2012); "The Fighter", English version by Amaia Gabantxo, Etxepare Basque Institute
- Bi anai ("Two Brothers", Erein, 1985)
- Bi letter jaso nituen oso denbora gutxian ( "Two letters", Erein, 1985)
- Henry Bengoa inventarium, Sugeak txoriari begiratzen dionean, Zeru horiek ("Henry bengoa inventarium. When the Snake looks at the Birds, The Lone Woman", Erein, 1995)
- Sara izeneko gizona ("The Man Named Sara", Pamiela, 1996)
- Etiopia ("Ethiopia", Pott, 1978),
- Nueva Etiopia ("New Ethiopia", Detursa, 1997)
- Chuck Aranberri dentista baten etxean ("Chuck Aranberri At a Dentist", Erein, 1985)
- Nikolasaren abenturak, Ramuntxo detektibe ("Adventures of Nicholas, Ramuntxo Detective", Elkar 1979)
- Siberiako ipuin eta kantak ("Stories and Songs of Siberia", Erein)
- Jimmy Potxolo, Antonino apreta, Asto bat hipodromoan, Txitoen istorio, Flannery eta bere astakiloak (Elkar)
- Xolak badu lehoien berri (Erein, 1995),
- Xola eta basurdeak ("Xola and the Wild Boars", Erein 1996) - won the Basque Children's Literature Prize en 1997
- Mundua eta Markoni ("The World and Markoni", BBK fundazioa, 1995)
- Ziutateaz (1976)
- Lekuak (2005)
- José Ángel Ascunce: Bernardo Atxaga. Los demonios personales de un escritor. Donostia-San Sebastián: Saturraran editorial, 2000. ISBN 84-931339-0-6.