Åsa Nelvin lost her mother early on and subsequently spent every summer with her grandparents in Scania and every winter at her father's house in Gothenburg. After completing her basic schooling, she went on to attend Statens Scenskola (the national theatre academy; today, University of Gothenburg Academy of Music and Drama) in Gothenburg, but left after one semester and supported herself with various casual jobs, working at a laundrette, an office, and delivering newspapers.
When she was first published in 1969, she was working as an actress for the local television channel in Gothenburg and attending adult upper secondary schooling classes. Her debut children's books De vita björnarna, 1969, and Det lille landet, 1971, were published when she was very young, and they hint at the conflict between the world and the little girl that she developed later in her writing. Her sorrow over her mother's death and her yearning for her father are themes in her autobiographical novel Tillflyktens hus eller En f.d. inneboendes erinran, 1975, written in a very tense and ironic tone, seasoned with dark humour.
Her descriptions of the environment in Gothenburg and Scania also play a central role in her writing. In Kvinnan som lekte med dockor (N), 1977, and Gattet. Sånger från barnasinnet (P), 1981, she tones down the sarcasm. Her style becomes more reserved and disciplined, and there are no more dream-like, absurd frequencies. The leave-taking phrase concluding her poetry collection Gattet comes across as a proclamation of her own tragic suicide.