A New Mexico-born writer belonging to the Laguna Pueblo tribe, she became a key figure in the Native American Renaissance. Her best-known works include Ceremony (1977), Almanac of the Dead (1991), and The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir (2010).
She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1969. She received a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant for her early short story, The Man to Send Rain Clouds.
She was an original (1981) recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Grant.
She married John Silko in 1971; together, they had one son. Previously, she had been married to Richard C. Chapman.
She accused poet Gary Snyder of profiting from Native American culture.