She was educated at the University of Cambridge, before teaching at the University of London and the Central School of Art and Design. Her younger sister, Margaret Drabble, is also a successful novelist, and the rivalry between the two is legendary.
More recently, A. S. Byatt caused controversy by suggesting that the popularity of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of books is because they are "written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip." In her editorial column in the New York Times newspaper, she scathingly attacked adult readers of the series as uncultured, claiming that "they don't have the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing, for as children they daily invested the ersatz with what imagination they had."
After the column appeared in the newspaper, her editorial was described by Salon.com contributing writer Charles Taylor as "upfront in its snobbishness." He also suggested that Byatt's claims may be due to jealousy towards Rowling's commercial success.