Gina Berriault was born in Long Beach, California, to Russian-Jewish immigrants. Her father, who worked as a marble cutter and later as a writer, was not always able to secure employment. Her mother went blind when Berriault was fourteen years old, which, Berriault suggested, influenced her writing. An avid reader, Berriault started to write her own stories in grammar school. Although a drama teacher in high school offered to pay her tuition at a prestigious drama school, the death of Berriault’s father prevented her from taking the offer, and she received no further formal education or any formal training as a writer. Instead, Berriault worked various jobs including clerk, waitress, and news reporter in order to support her mother, brother, and sister.
Berriault was married to J. V. Berriault, a musician, whom she later divorced. Supporting herself and her daughter through her writing, her first success came in 1958 when seven of her stories were collected in Scribners’s Short Story I. In the 1960’s, Berriault lived and wrote in Mexico for a time and wrote articles for Esquire, eventually gaining recognition as a writer of serious fiction. She taught creative writing at San Francisco University and at Ohio State University, and received an appointment as a scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study. She died in 1999 at the age of seventy-three.