Paula Gunn Allen was born on October 24, 1939, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her father was Lebanese and her mother identified as Laguna Pueblo and Scottish. She received a BA in 1966 and an MFA in creative writing in 1968 from the University of Oregon and a PhD from the University of New Mexico in 1976.
A scholar of Native American literature, Allen also authored several volumes of poetry, including America the Beautiful (West End Press, 2010), Life Is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems 1962-1995 (West End Press, 1997); Skins and Bones (West End Press, 1988); Wyrds (Taurean Horn, 1987); Shadow Country (University of California Indian Studies Center, 1982); A Cannon Between My Knees (Strawberry Press, 1981); and Blind Lion (Thorp Springs Press, 1974).
Allen's honors included the Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association and a Lannan Foundation Fellowship.
She taught at the University of California, Los Angeles where she was a professor of English, Creative Writing, and American Indian Studies. She died on May 29, 2008, in Fort Bragg, California.