Couto was born in the city of Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city, where he was also raised and schooled. He is the son of Portuguese emigrants who moved to the former Portuguese colony in the 1950s. At the age of fourteen, some of his poetry was published in a local newspaper, Notícias da Beira. Three years later, in 1971, he moved to the capital Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) and began to study medicine at the University of Lourenço Marques. During this time, the anti-colonial guerrilla and political movement FRELIMO was struggling to overthrow the Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique.
In April 1974, after the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon and the overthrow of the Estado Novo regime, Mozambique was about to become an independent republic. In 1974, FRELIMO asked Couto to suspend his studies for a year to work as a journalist for Tribuna until September 1975 and then as the director of the newly created Mozambique Information Agency (AIM). Later, he ran the Tempo magazine until 1981. His first book of poems, Raiz de Orvalho, was published in 1983; it included texts aimed against the dominance of Marxist militant propaganda. Couto continued working for the newspaper Notícias until 1985 when he resigned to finish his course of study in biology.
Not only is Mia Couto considered one of the most important writers in Mozambique, but many of his works have been published in more than 20 countries and in various languages, including Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian, Serbian and Catalan. In many of his texts, he undertakes to recreate the Portuguese language by infusing it with regional vocabulary and structures from Mozambique, thus producing a new model for the African narrative. Stylistically, his writing is influenced by magical realism, a style popular in modern Latin American literatures, and his use of language is reminiscent of the Brazilian writer Guimarães Rosa, but also deeply influenced by the baiano writer Jorge Amado. He has been noted for creating proverbs, sometimes known as "improverbs", in his fiction, as well as riddles, legends, metaphors, giving his work a poetical dimension  An international jury at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair named his first novel, Terra Sonâmbula (Sleepwalking Land), one of the best 12 African books of the 20th century. In 2007, he became the first African author to win the prestigious Latin Union literary prize, which has been awarded annually in Italy since 1990. Mia Couto became only the fourth writer in the Portuguese language to take home this prestigious award, having competed against authors from Portugal, France, Colombia, Spain, Italy, and Senegal. Currently, he is a biologist employed by the Limpopo Transfrontier Park while continuing his work on other writing projects.
^Maria João Coutinho. 2008. The heart is a beach: proverbs and improverbs in Mia Counto's stories. Proceedings of the First Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Proverbs, ed. by Rui. J. B. Soares and Outi Lauhakangas, 484-489.