An American author of short stories and poems, she is best known for her acclaimed stories, "Goodbye and Good Luck" and "The Used-Boy Raisers." Her 1994 work, Collected Stories, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
She attended Hunter College and briefly studied with W.H. Auden at The New School for Social Research. She later taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, and Syracuse University.
During the Vietnam War era, she became a prominent political activist and pacifist.
Her parents were Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants to New York, and she grew up speaking Russian and Yiddish. She was married twice: to Jess Paley and Robert Nichols. With her first husband, she had two children: Nora and Danny.
New York governor Mario Cuomo named her the first official writer of New York State in 1989.