Born in Rye, New York, Nash's family moved often when he was a child due to his father's job in the import-export business. In fact, Nash's family was quite distinguished in America; the city of Nashville, Tennessee was named for them. After graduating high school in Rhode Island, Nash attended Harvard University for one year and dropped out, moving to New York. While in New York, Nash worked briefly on Wall Street, then as a school teacher and then copywriter before accepting a position as a marketer for Doubleday Publishing.
In 1930, Nash's first poems appeared in The New Yorker; the following year, his first volume of verse, Hard Lines was published to much success. That same year, he also married Frances Ogden and shortly thereafter began to work for The New Yorker. However, the success of his book inspired him to leave his job at the magazine and write verse full time. As Frances was a Baltimore native, Ogden and Frances moved to Baltimore in 1934, where they would remain for the rest of their lives. Baltimore became an integral aspect of Nash's poetry, and he loved the city.
Nash was very popular during his lifetime, appearing often on television and radio programs. His poetry was published in periodicals such as The Saturday Evening Post and Vogue. His popularity can be attributed to his humour, anti-establishment sentiments and light mockery of politicians and religious fanatics.
Nash also wrote three screenplays for MGM and the Broadway hit One Touch of Venus, with composer Kurt Weill in 1943.