Zuenir Carlos Ventura was born in Além Paraíba, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, on 1st June 1931, son of José Ventura and Herina de Araújo. He spent his childhood in Ponte Nova, in the same state, his teenage years in Nova Friburgo, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and has lived in Rio now for over 40 years. He is married to journalist Mary Akierstein Ventura and has a son Mauro, 35 and a daughter Elisa, 34.

He started out as assistant to his father who worked as a decorator in Nova Friburgo. He then went on to work at a dentures laboratory as a cleaner, a bar-hand, an office boy at a bank, a shop assistant in a men's outfitter's and a primary school teacher. In his spare time, he played basketball where he acquired his nickname "Divino Mestre" – Divine Master.

In the mid-1950s, he moved to Rio where he enrolled on a course in neo-Latin literature in the School of Philosophy, at the former Universidade do Brasil. During his studies, he taught at several schools and gave private tuition, and in his last year at university he went to work in the archives for the newspaper Tribuna da Imprensa, run by the then journalist Carlos Lacerda. After several months, he was transferred to the editorial office.

In 1960 he received a scholarship from the French government to study at the Centre de Formation des Journalistes in Paris. During his studies, he worked as a correspondent for the Tribuna da Imprensa, covering, among other events, the Évian Treaty, marking the end of the war in Algeria, and the meeting of Kruschev and Kennedy in Vienna.

He returned to Brazil in 1961, and between 1963 and 1969 worked as the international news editor for the Correio da Manhã, editorial director for the magazine Fatos & Fotos, news chief for the magazine O Cruzeiro and editor in chief for the Rio branch of the magazine Visão, and in 1969, went back to the Correio da Manhã where he took up the post of head of editorial.

At the end of 1969, he put forward a proposal to the publishers Editora Abril to produce a series of 12 reports, namely Os anos 60 – A década que mudou tudo –, which was later published as a book.

In 1971 he returned to work for the magazine Visão, and remained there as head of editorial at the Rio branch until 1977 when he moved to the magazine Veja also as head of editorial in Rio. In 1981, he went to run the branch office of the magazine IstoÉ.

He was invited in 1985 to reformulate the layout and editorial of Jornal do Brasil's Sunday supplement Domingo. On completion of this project, he took charge of the section Caderno B at the same newspaper. In 1986 he launched the weekly section BEspecial and, the following year, the literary supplement Idéias.

In 1988, he published his book 1968 – o ano que não terminou which stayed on the list of bestsellers for two years, and provided the source material for TV-Globo's mini-series Anos Rebeldes.

In 1989, he was awarded the Vladimir Herzog prize and the Esso Prize for Journalism for his series of reports entitled O Acre de Chico Mendes.

In 1994, he launched his book Cidade Partida, an account of the violence in Rio de Janeiro.

In 1998, he published his work of fiction Mal Secreto about the evils of envy.

In 1999, after 14 years with the Jornal do Brasil, he moved over to the daily newspaper O Globo with a weekly column.