Judah Waten was born in Odessa, but soon after his birth he was taken to Palestine. The family emigrated from Czarist Russia along with many other Jewish families to escape the pogroms there earlier in the 20th century. The Waten family left Palestine for Western Australia when Waten was three years old. They moved to Melbourne at the end of 1925. He was educated at the Christian Brothers College, Perth, and at University High School, Melbourne.
Waten began to write in 1928, particularly about the unemployed. From 1931 to 1933 he lived in England and co-edited The Unemployed Worker. He resumed writing fiction in the 1940s and worked for a few years as a public servant. In 1966 he became a reviewer for the Age and, in 1970, for the Sydney Morning Herald. He was a member of the Communist Party of Australia and of the Realist Writers group.
Waten was a committee member of the Victorian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) from 1950, and one of the founding members of the Literature Board. Originally published in English, his novels have been translated into more than ten languages. Waten's best known work is the collection of fictionalised autobiographical sketches of childhood, Alien Son (1952). He also translated from the Yiddish works by other Australian-Jewish writers.
Waten died on the date that he claimed as his birthdate, although there is some uncertainty about the exact date of birth due to differences in calendars. He commented in an interview with Suzanne Lunney (1975) published in Judah Waten: Fiction, Memoir, Criticism (1998): 'It is fixed that I was born on 29th July, it could have been two days earlier or five days later [...] I think the 29th July was the Western approximation of the Greek Orthodox or the Gregorian [calendar].'
(Source: David Carter, 'Judah Waten (29 July 1911? - 29 July 1985)', Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 289: Australian Writers, 1950-1975 (2004): 308-316; David Carter, 'Introduction', Judah Waten: Fiction, Memoir, Criticism (1998). ix-xxxii; David Carter A Career in Writing: Judah Waten and the Cultural Politics of a Literary Career (1997))..
(AustLit acknowledges the assistance of David Carter who has provided valuable advice and material for completing the entries on works by and about Judah Waten, including information about Waten's use of the pseudonym Matt Turner.)