A prominent cultural critic during the 1940s and '50s, she became known for works such as The Oasis (1949), Cast a Cold Eye (1950), and A Charmed Life (1955). She was the 1984 recipient of both the National Medal for Literature and the Edward MacDowell Medal.
She studied at Vassar College in New York, graduating in 1933. In defiance of her Catholic upbringing, she became a steadfast atheist.
She contributed to such influential publications as The New York Review of Books and Harper's Magazine.
She was married to fellow author and social critic, Edmund Wilson, during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Her other three spouses were Harald Johnsrud, Bowden Broadwater, and James West.
She was a political activist and Communist sympathizer, and she criticized the policies of Senator Joseph McCarthy.