Pip Adam was born in Christchurch and raised in Auckland. She left school at 16 and worked as a hairdresser for 15 years between studying and writing. At 23 she studied at the New Zealand Film and Television School. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at Otago University in 2000. In 2001, Adam moved to Wellington to complete a Master of Library and Information Studies at Victoria University. She completed a second MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2007, and in 2012, a PhD in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her thesis asked in what ways the language of structural engineering can inform, alter and enlarge fiction.
Adam's first book of short stories, Everything We Hoped For, was published by Victoria University Press in 2010. In a review for The New Zealand Herald, Paula Green compares these stories to a ‘reduced stock’ combining ‘time’ and ‘a handful of carefully selected ingredients.’ She explains: ‘by sticking to the heart of the story and a piercing emotional core,’ Adam produces ‘intensity of flavour.’ Everything We Hoped For was awarded the NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction at the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards.
Adam's next book and debut novel, I’m Working on a Building, was published by Victoria University Press in 2013. The novel was born out of the creative component of her PhD and its story, told in reverse, revolves around Catherine, a structural engineer. Carl Shuker writes that for those paying attention, every chapter provides context for the earlier episodes. ‘A collapse becomes a crack. We assemble the novel; we assemble the story and do so on every reread. You have to do this work to get this thrill.’ I’m Working on a Building has been described as complicated, clever, and challenging.
Adam's third novel, The New Animals, was published by Victoria University Press in 2017.It won the Acorn Foundation Prize at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, New Zealand’s biggest award for fiction. The New Animals was praised by the category judges as a ‘confrontational, revelatory novel that holds a mirror up to contemporary New Zealand culture.’ They said that the book was ‘so vivid in imagery and imagination that the judges haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s the book with the most blood on the page. It will give you an electric shock.’
Adam co-convened the MA in Creative Writing at the IIML with Chris Price in the first half of 2016. She has taught the short fiction workshop at the IIML alongside William Brandt. She has also taught fiction and creative non-fiction at Massey University. She has served as an external examiner for Auckland University and Victoria University, and also mentored students of the Whitireia Diploma in Creative Writing.
Alongside William Brandt and Gigi Fenster, Adam is a part of the Write Where You Are Collective, teachers of creative writing at Arohata and Rimutaka Prisons. The Collective members received Corrections Volunteer Awards in 2016 and a Highly Commended Citation in the 2017 Arts Access Corrections Community Awards.
Adam was the recipient of the 2012 Art Foundation New Generation award.
Adam created and produces the Better Off Read podcast where she talks with authors about writing and reading.
In 2020, Adam's novel Nothing to See was published by Victoria University Press.
Carl Shuker on The Spinoff: On the blind, mulish idiocy of reviewers and the genius of Pip Adam