Elżbieta Borensztejn was born on 4 January 1946 in Łódź, Poland, the daughter of Hena and Aaron Borensztejn with Jewish origin. Following her birth, her parents moved to Paris, France, and in 1951 they emigrating to Canada. She grew up in the province of Quebec - first in a small Laurentian town, subsequently in Montreal.
She graduated from McGill University with a B.A. degree in 1966 and her M.A. the following year. During 1970-71 she was a staff writer for the Centre for Community Research in New York City and is a former University of Essex lecturer in European Studies. She was a founding member and editorial director of the Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative. Through the eighties she was a Deputy Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, UK, for whom she also edited the seminal Documents Series and established ICA television and the video Writers in Conversation series.
She produced several made for television films and had written a number of books before devoting herself to writing fulltime in 1990. In recognition of her contribution to literature, Lisa Appignanesi has been honoured with a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. In 2004, she became Deputy President of English PEN and has run its highly successful 'Free Expression is No Offence Campaign' against the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. In 2008 she became President of English PEN. She writes for The Guardian, The Independent and has made several series for BBC Radio 4, as well as frequently appearing as a cultural commentator.
In 1967, she married Richard Appignanesi, another writer, with whom she had one son in 1975, Josh Appignanesi, a film director. They divorced in 1984. With her life partner John Forrester, she had a daugther, Katrina Forrester, a Research Fellow in the history of modern political thought at St John's College, Cambridge. She lives in London.