Covington was one of four children born to Sam Covington, a Tennessee Coal, Iron, & Railroad Company supervisor, and his wife, Ellaree Covington, an artist and homemaker. He earned his bachelor of arts at the University of Virginia, then was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving as a court reporter for a legal unit based at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He went on to complete a master of fine arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the early 1970s.
Covington then returned to Birmingham where he married and began teaching English at Miles College. He also participated in productions at the Birmingham Festival Theatre. After separating from his wife in 1976 he moved to Wooster, Ohio and taught at the College of Wooster. While there he married fellow writer and Birmingham native Vicki Marsh. The Covingtons returned to Birmingham in 1978 and Dennis took a teaching job at UAB while working on his own writing.
In 1983, Covington went to El Salvador as a freelance journalist covering that country's civil war. He continued to travel there, making twelve trips over a six year span. His correspondences were published frequently in Scripps-Howard and Newhouse owned newspapers. His profile of president-elect Violeta Chamorro was published in Vogue.
Covington's first published book, Lizard, won Delacorte Press' contest for a First Young Adult Novel and the Alabama Author Award from the Alabama Library Association. He followed that with another novel for young readers entitled Lasso the Moon.
He also contributed articles to The New York Times, including a 1992 feature on the rural religious practice of "snake handling", which became the subject of his first non-fiction book, Salvation on Sand Mountain. That book became a best-seller and was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Boston Book Review's Anne Rea Jewell Non-Fiction Prize.
In 2003 Covington left UAB and moved to Lubbock, Texas to become a professor of creative writing at Texas Tech University. In 2005 he served as a judge for the National Book Award for Non Fiction.
Dennis and Vicki Covington have two daughters and three grandchildren.
- Covington, Dennis (1991) Lizard. New York: Delacorte Press
- Covington, Dennis (1995) Lasso the Moon, New York: Delacorte Press
- Covington, Dennis (1995) Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Salvation in Southern Appalachia. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley ISBN 9780140254587
- Covington, Dennis & Vicki Covington (1999) Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage. New York: North Point Press
- Covington, Dennis (2004) Redneck Riviera: Armadillos, Outlaws, and the Demise of an American Dream. New York: Counterpoint
- Covington, Dennis (2016) Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World. New York: Little Brown & Company.
- White, Cynthia Quinn (June 15, 2012) "Dennis Covington" Encyclopedia of Alabama online - accessed July 19, 2016