He was born as Mark Doyle in Melbourne. He changed his name to Louis Nowra in the early 1970s. He studied at Melbourne's La Trobe University without earning a degree. In his memoir, The Twelfth of Never, Nowra claimed that he left the course due to a conflict with his professor on Patrick White's The Tree of Man. He worked in several jobs and lived an itinerant lifestyle until the mid-1970s when his plays began to attract attention.
His radio plays include Albert Names Edward, The Song Room, The Widows and the five part The Divine Hammer aired on the ABC in 2003.
In March 2007, Nowra published a controversial book on violence in Aboriginal communities, Bad Dreaming.
Nowra has been studied extensively in Veronica Kelly's work The Theatre of Louis Nowra.
He resides in Sydney with his wife, author Mandy Sayer.