An American novelist and short story writer, she is known for works such as Women in Their Beds: New & Selected Stories (1996) and The Lights of Earth (1984). She was a recipient of both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
She began writing stories on her father's typewriter when she was in elementary school.
She received both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
She grew up in Long Beach, California as the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants. She died at the age of seventy-three in Greenbrae, California.
She taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where Chris Offut once studied.