An American novelist and short story writer, she is best known for Ship Fever, a collection of novellas and short stories that won the National Book Award in 1996. Her 2002 short story collection, Servants of the Map, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003.
She received a degree in biology from Union College and briefly studied zoology. She published her debut novel, Lucid Stars, in 1988.
She didn't begin writing fiction until she was in her thirties.
She moved to Rochester, New York in the 1980s in order to be with her husband, Barry Goldstein.
She and Ann Hamilton both received the MacArthur Fellowship.