Alice Boyd Adams was born August 14, 1926, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the only child of Nicholson B. Adams, a professor, and Agatha Erskine Boyd Adams, a writer. She entered Radcliffe College at the age of sixteen and graduated with a B.A. in 1946. She married Mark Linenthal, Jr., a university professor, in 1947.
Adams relocated to California with her husband, who had found a teaching job at San Francisco State University beginning in the early 1950’s. Adams would base many of her novels and short stories in and around San Francisco. The couple’s son, Peter, was born in 1951. Holding down various jobs such as a clerk, a secretary or a bookkeeper, following her divorce from Linenthal in 1958, Adams was the character later portrayed in her own books and stories: She was an intelligent, vibrant woman with much to offer the world, struggling to find her talent and voice.
Adams’s first short story, “Winter Rain” appeared in Charm in July, 1959. She has been described by writer Mary Gaitskill as having “intense elegance” and “grace,” and possessing “an organic mental integrity.” Later in Adams’s career, she taught creative-writing courses at Stanford University and the University of California, Davis, and Berkeley. She was always supportive of younger writers.