King was born in Wellington on 15 December 1945 to Lewis and Eleanor King. One of four children, he grew up in Paremata. He was educated at Sacred Heart College in Auckland and St Patrick's College (Silverstream) in Wellington.
He studied history at Victoria University of Wellington (BA, 1967) and at Waikato University (MA, 1968) before working as a journalist at theWaikato Times newspaper in Hamilton from 1968 to 1971. He gained a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from Waikato University in 1978.
He married Ros Henry in 1967 and they had two children – Jonathan Michael (b. 1967) and Rachael Frances (b. 1970). Jonathan is a successful film-maker and Rachael is a successful novelist.
King taught journalism at the Wellington Polytechnic from 1971 to 1974, and went on to hold numerous university posts and fellowships. This included the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship in 1976.
Through the 1980s and 1990s he held fellowships at several universities in New Zealand and overseas. These included the Winston Churchill Fellowship at the University of Auckland (1980) and the writer's fellowship at Victoria University (1983). He won a Fulbright Visiting Writers' Fellowship (1988) and was the Burns Fellow at Otago University (1998-99).
He always supported writers and journalists. From the early 1990s, when he was a guest lecturer, he taught at writers’ workshops and was involved in training young Maori journalists. At the time of his death was taking part in the mentoring programme run by the New Zealand Society of Authors.
In 1987 he married Maria Jungowska, a talented editor in a book publishing firm. In 1993 they moved to Opoutere in the Coromandel, where they lived until they died together in a car accident on 30 March 2004.
Michael King loved Opoutere and it became a very important part of his life. In 2008 Waikato University bought his house there when his children, Jonathan King and Rachel King, decided to sell it. The house is used as a retreat for staff and visiting academics.
This photo shows Michael King (back row, waving) with John Marment to the right. The middle row (from left) includes Reese Marment, Jenny Mapstone and Elaine Porter. It was taken at Seaview Road, Paremata, in 1951-52, on the sixth birthday of Jenny Mapstone (now Jenny Doring of Carterton), who supplied a copy of the photo.