Shakar was born in and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Yale University in 1990. He was a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas. Shakar attended the University of Illinois and received his Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing.
In 1996, Shakar won the National Fiction Competition and received Pick of the Year from the Independent Presses for City in Love. The Savage Girl was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book and a Book Sense Pick in 2001.
He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois and teaches fiction writing at the University of Illinois.