Madeline DeFrees was born in Ontario, Oregon, on November 18, 1919, and moved to Hillsboro in 1923. After graduating from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, she entered the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, where she was known for many years as Sister Mary Gilbert.
After receiving a BA in English from Marylhurst College and an MA in journalism from the University of Oregon, she taught at Holy Names College in Spokane from 1950 to 1967. She then taught at the University of Montana, in Missoula, from 1967 to 1979. In late 1973 she was dispensed from her religious vows. She taught at the University of Massachusetts from 1979 to 1985, after which she retired to Seattle. In 2010, she moved to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to her family.
DeFrees is the author of eight poetry collections, including Spectral Waves (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), winner of a Washington Book Award, and Blue Dusk: New and Selected Poems 1951–2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001), winner of the 2002 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and a Washington Book Award. She was also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and held residencies as Bucknell University, Eastern Washington University, and Wichita State University. DeFrees died on November 11, 2015, in her home in Portland, Oregon.