Christa Wolf, née Ihlenfeld, was born in Landsberg an der Warthe, Germany (present-day Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland). At the end of World War II, her family fled the advance of the Red Army and settled in Mecklenburg, in what would become the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany. She went to high school in Gammelin, near Schwerin, and studied literature at the University of Jena and the University of Leipzig. At age 20, she became a member of the Socialist Party. In 1951, she married Gerhard Wolf, a writer and fellow student. After graduation, she worked for the German Writers' Union and as an editor for a publishing company.
She first made her mark as a writer with the novel Der geteilte Himmel (Divided Heaven) in 1963. Her subsequent works included Nachdenken über Christa T. (The Quest for Christa T., 1968), Kindheitsmuster (Patterns of Childhood, 1976), Kassandra (Cassandra, 1983), Störfall (Accident, 1987), Medea (1996), Auf dem Weg nach Tabou (On the Way to Taboo, 1994), and Stadt der Engel oder (City of Angels or The Overcoat of Dr. Freud, 2010).
By the 1980s, her realistic style and her feminism, as much as her open criticism of the GDR, had made her well-known in West Germany and internationally. She received numerous awards for her work, including the Heinrich Mann Prize (1963), the Georg Büchner Prize (1980), the Schiller Memorial Prize (1983), and the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis (1987). After German reunification, she was awarded the Elisabeth Langgässer Prize (1999) and the Nelly Sachs Literature Prize, and became the first recipient of the Deutscher Bücherpreis (German Book Prize) in 2002 for lifetime achievement. In 1993, the release of documents compiled by the GDR secret police known as the Stasi showed that she had informed on fellow authors from 1959 to 1962.