Most well known for her Newbery Medal and U.S. Book Award-winning children's book M. C. Higgins, the Great, she is also famous for her children's mystery The House of Dies Drear, as well as for works such as Bruh Rabbit and the Tar Baby Girl; The Planet of Junior Brown; and The Girl Who Spun Gold.
Some years after attending Antioch College and Ohio State University, she published her debut literary work, Zeely. The novel received the Nancy Bloch Award and an American Library Association Notable Book designation.
One of five children born to Kenneth and Etta Hamilton, she spent her childhood in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Her marriage to children's poet Arnold Adoff produced two children.
In 2010, the American Library Association introduced a literary honor known as the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award that recognizes exceptional work by African American children's writers.