Örkény was the son of a pharmacist. After high school, he studied chemistry and then pharmacy. He graduated from pharmacological school in 1934 and later earned a degree in chemistry. He published his first book, Ocean Dance, in 1941. In 1942, he was sent to the Russian Front. As a Jew, he was placed in a forced-labor unit. There he was captured and detained in a labour camp near Moscow, where he wrote the play Voronesh. In 1946, he returned home to Budapest. From 1956 until 1960, he was not allowed to publish due to political reasons. He later gained popularity through short stories such as One Minute Stories. In 2004, the Madách Chamber Theatre in Budapest was renamed the Örkeny Theater in his honour.