Mary Lou McGinness Mackey was born in 1945 in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, where she raised. She is related through her father's family to Mark Twain. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan. During the early 1970s she lived in the rain forests of Costa Rica. From 1989 to 1992 she served of Chair of PEN American Center, West. Currently, she is a professor of English and Writer in Residence at California State University, Sacramento.
Mary Mackey published novels and books of poetry and have sold over a million and a half copies. They have been translated into eleven foreign languages including Japanese, Hebrew, and Finnish. While her poetry has mainly centered around the traditional lyric themes of love, death, and nature, her novels have ranged from the Midwestern United States to Neolithic Europe, from comedy to tragedy. A screenwriter as well as a novelist, she has sold feature scripts to Warner Brothers as well as to various independent film companies. John Korty directed the filming of her original screenplay Silence which starred the late Will Geer and which won several awards.
She has lectured at many places including Harvard and the Smithsonian. Additionally, she has contributed to such diverse print and on-line publications as The Chiron Review, Redbook, and Salon. She also writes comedy under the pen name "Kate Clemens".