An award-winning American author, she is known for works such as Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982) and The Accidental Tourist (1985). Her 1988 novel, Breathing Lessons, received the Pulitzer Prize.
She attended Duke University on a full scholarship, graduating at the age of nineteen. She subsequently attended graduate school at Columbia University and worked as a librarian.
The majority of her novels are set in Baltimore, Maryland, where she settled as an adult.
She was born in Minnesota and grew up in Quaker communities in North Carolina. With her husband, Taghi Mohammad Modarressi, she had two daughters.
Her novel, The Accidental Tourist, was adapted into a 1988 film starring William Hurt .