He was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up on a ranch in Southeastern Oregon's Warner Valley in Lake County where he attended school in Adel, Oregon, and later would attend high school in California and Oregon. At age 35 he retired from ranching and enrolled in Iowa Writers' Workshop at University of Iowa where he completed his MFA.
He taught creative writing at University of Montana.
Kittredge's father Oscar was friends with leadership in the Republican Party in Oregon. Oscar was to be picked up by Oregon Governor Earl Snell for a hunting trip in October 1947 when the plane Snell and Oregon Secretary of State Robert Farrell, among others, crashed en route, killing all four on board. Two years later, in 1949, William entered Oregon State University in Corvallis.
He became a major voice with his 1987 collection of essays, Owning It All, about the modern West. He followed with his famous book, Hole in the Sky: A Memoir. His book The Nature of Generosity holds forth on the value of what he terms extreme long loop altruism, elaborating with refreshing insights and wisdom on sustainability, civilization, and its relationship to culture, history, and human nature. He was also co-producer of the movie, A River Runs Through It.
He has received numerous awards including a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford and Writing Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. With Annick Smith, he edited The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology.
- The Van Gogh Field and Other Stories (1976)
- We Are Not in This Together (1984)
- Owning It All (1987)
- Hole in the Sky: A Memoir (1992)
- Who Owns the West? (1995)
- The Nature of Generosity (2000)
- Southwestern Homelands (2002)
- The Willow Field (2006)
- The Next Rodeo: New and Selected Essays (2006)
- Kittredge, William. 1992. Hole in the sky a memoir. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-74006-3
- Simon Loxley, 'Whatahell! - The Letters of Frederic Warde to William Kittredge', in Parenthesis; 16 (2009 February), p. 21-24
- Ronald E. McFarlane, William Kittredge (2002. Boise State University western writers series, no. 152. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University)
- Author papers at Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University
- More on Kittredge’s life, books and awards
- Essay on Who Owns the West?
- Essay on 9/11