Born on November 8, 1945, in Bisbee, Arizona, Alice Notley grew up in Needles, California. She received a BA from Barnard College in 1967, and an MFA from the the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1969.
She moved about frequently in her youth (San Francisco, Bolinas, London, Essex, Chicago) and eventually married the poet Ted Berrigan in 1972, with whom she had two sons. In the early 1970s, Notley settled in New York's Lower East Side, where she was very involved in the local literary scene for several decades. In 1979, she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. After Berrigan's death in 1983, she married the British poet Douglas Oliver.
Though she is often identified as a prominent member of the eclectic second generation of The New York School, her poetry also demonstrates a continuing fascination with the desert and its inhabitants.
Notley's collections of verse include Certain Magical Acts (Penguin, 2016); Songs and Stories of the Ghouls (Wesleyan University Press, 2011); Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970-2005 (Weslyan University Press, 2006), which was awarded the 2007 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for the best book of the year; Disobedience (Penguin, 2001), winner of the 2002 International Griffin Poetry Prize; Mysteries of Small Houses (Penguin, 1998); Selected Poems of Alice Notley (Talisman House, 1993); Margaret and Dusty (Coffee House Press, 1985); and Sorrento (Sherwood Press, 1984).
Her collection How Spring Comes (Toothpaste Press, 1981) received a 1982 San Francisco Poetry Award. Other early titles include Waltzing Matilda (Kulchur Foundation, 1981), Alice Ordered Me To Be Made (Yellow Press, 1976), and 165 Meeting House Lane ("C" Press, 1971). She has also published Tell Me Again (Am Here Books, 1982), an autobiography, and experiments with visual arts; her works include collages, watercolors, and sketches.
She has said that her speech is the voice of "the new wife, and the new mother" in her own time, but that her first aim is to make a poem, rather than present a platform of social reform.
Notley has received the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2001, she received both an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award. In 2015, she was honored with the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She currently lives in Paris.