Born and raised in California, Harriet Green Huntington attended Stanford University but left after her junior year to marry Albert Doerr. The couple moved to Mexico in the late 1950s. After her husband's death, Harriet Doerr returned to California and completed her BA degree at Stanford. She began writing and was soon publishing short stories.
Her first novel Stones for Ibarra, was published in 1984, when Ms. Doerr was 74 years old, and won the National Book Award for first work of fiction. Her works were heavily influenced by her years of living in Mexico.