A Mississippi-born author of fiction, she is most famous for her National Book Award-nominated novel, Apostles of Light, which deals with the mistreatment of the residents of an elder care facility. Her other works include Where the Dreams Cross (1968) and The Rock Cried Out (1979).
Her given name was Josephine Ayres Haxton; she adopted the pen name of Ellen Douglas in an effort to protect her privacy.
Several of her works focus on race relations and the role of women in society.
She was born in Natchez, Mississippi and moved around the South during her childhood, spending time in Louisiana and Arkansas. In 1942, she graduated from the University of Mississippi.
She mentioned in interviews that she was influenced by the legendary Southern writer, William Faulkner.