Sparks was born in Omaha, Nebraska and wrote his first novel, The Passing, in 1985, while a student at the University of Notre Dame. His first published work came in 1990, when he co-wrote with Billy Mills Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding, which sold approximately 50,000 copies in its first year. In 1993, Sparks wrote his breakthrough novel The Notebook in his spare time while selling pharmaceuticals in Washington, D. C. . Two years later, his novel was discovered by literary agent Theresa Park who offered to represent him. The novel was published in October 1996 and made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week. In 2019, Sparks apologized for homophobic comments he made in the course of opposing efforts to make a school he funded more diverse.