An American literary critic, academic author, and professor, she was also a judge for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in Poetry. Her scholarly publications include Modern American Poets and Stevens: Poems.
She received a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a Fulbright Fellowship in mathematics before graduating from Harvard University with a Ph.D. in English and American Literature.
She was selected by The National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the Jefferson Lecture in 2004.
She wed philosopher Zeno Vendler. Prior to their divorce, she and Vendler became parents to one son.
She compiled selected poems by Emily Dickinson in 2010 and published these poems alongside her own literary commentary.