Nicole Cooley grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received her BA from Brown University, her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and her PhD from Emory University.
Her first book of poetry, Resurrection (Louisiana State University Press, 1996), was chosen by Cynthia Macdonald to receive the 1995 Walt Whitman Award. Her second book of poetry, The Afflicted Girls (Louisiana State University Press, 2004), about the Salem witch trials of 1692, was chosen as one of the best poetry books of the year by Library Journal. She is also the author of the novel Judy Garland, Ginger Love (Regan Books/Harper Collins, 1998). Her third book of poetry is Breach (Louisiana State University Press, 2009), a collection of poems about Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast.
About Cooley, Cynthia Macdonald has said, "Nicole Cooley speaks in a voice unmistakably her own, a voice which need not demand attention because its quiet confidence is so compelling."
Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Field, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Nation. She was awarded a "Discovery"/The Nation Award for her poetry in 1994, and in 1996 she received a fiction grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Cooley has taught at Bucknell University. She is currently an associate professor of English and creative writing at Queens College—City University of New York, where she directs the MFA program in creative writing and literary translation. She lives outside of New York City with her husband and two daughters.