Born on July 16, 1923, Mari Evans grew up in Toledo, Ohio. She attended the University of Toledo.
A major figure in the Black Arts Movement, among her books of poetry are A Dark and Splendid Mass (Harlem River Press, 1992), Nightstar: 1973-1978 (1981), I Am a Black Woman (1970), and Where Is All the Music? (1968). Her books for children include Dear Corinne, Tell Somebody! Love, Annie: A Book about Secrets (1999), Singing Black: Alternative Nursery Rhymes for Children (1998, illustrated by Ramon Price) Jim Flying High (1979, illustrated by Ashley Bryan), Rap Stories (1974), and J.D. (1973, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney).
She is also the author of the plays Eye (a 1979 adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God) and River of My Song (first produced in 1977).
She is a contributor to and an editor of the volume Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation (1984), and has taught at colleges and universities including Spelman College, Purdue University, and Cornell University.
Among her honors are fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the John Hay Whitney Fellowship. In 1997, she was celebrated with her photo on a Ugandan postage stamp.
Mari Evans lived in Indianapolis, Indiana. She died on March 10, 2017.