He was born in Sainte-Justine, Quebec and studied at the Collège St-Louis in New Brunswick, the Université de Montréal in Quebec, and at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France, where he received a doctorate in literature.
From 1994 to 1997, he served as head of the Canada Council. In 1998, he ran as an electoral candidate for the Quebec Liberal Party under Jean Charest, in the riding of Crémazie. He was defeated by 309 votes.
In 1991, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. From 1999 to 2004, Carrier was National Librarian of Canada. With Ian E. Wilson, the then National Archivist, he developed the process to unify the National Archive and National Library.
In 1992, Carrier's Prayers of a Very Wise Child (Prières d'un enfant très très sage) won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.
Also involved in theatre (having served as playwright at the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde), Carrier has adapted La guerre, yes sir! and Floralie, où es-tu? for the stage. La guerre, yes sir! was produced as a play in 1970, was performed in English at the Stratford festival, and has been made into a film. Floralie, où es-tu? was performed by Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde in 1974. The trilogy consisting of these two novels and Il est par là, le soleil sold better in English than in French.
An excerpt from "Le chandail de hockey" ("The Hockey Sweater"), one of Carrier's contes, is reprinted on the back of the Canadian five-dollar bill. The story, about a young boy who orders a Montreal Canadiens sweater from the Eaton's catalogue, but receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead, is considered by many to be a literary allegory for the linguistic and cultural tensions between English and French Canadians, and is thus considered essential reading for anybody who seeks to understand the complex realities of linguistic and cultural identity in Canada. The National Film Board of Canada has made this story into an animated short film, narrated by Carrier in both the French and English versions.
Heartbreaks Along The Road (De l'amour dans la ferraille) is a work of magical realism - he pokes fun at political and religious figures, using ridiculous scenarios, and exaggerated personality characteristics, while telling the story from different characters' points of view. There are many levels to his satire and his writing is flowery and descriptive.
Sheila Fischman has won various awards for translation of his books into English.
Roch Carrier Elementary School in Kanata, Ontario is named after him.
See also: Canadian literature.