Marja-Liisa Vartio, née Sairanen, was born in Sääminki, Finland, to parents who divorced a few months before she was born. She went to high school in Nurmijärven and studied literature, art history, and philosophy at the University of Helsinki, graduating with a master's degree in 1950. During her freshman year in 1945, she married Valter Vartion, with whom she adopted a daughter before the marriage ended in 1955. That year, she remarried to the writer Paavo Haavikko, with whom she had two children. She began her literary career in the early 1950s as a poet, but after publishing a few collections, she turned to prose. She is considered an innovator of the Finnish novel, often using folk literature as inspiration. Her first novel, Se on sitten kevät (It Is Then the Spring) was published in 1957, and was followed by several more. She also wrote short stories; many of her poems and short stories have appeared in anthologies. She died in 1966 at age 41 following a high fever that led to a coma. Her last novel Hänen olivat linnut (The Parson's Widow), was published posthumously in 1967. She kept a diary that was published, together with her letters, in three volumes in the 1990s, edited by her daughter Anna-Liisa Haavikko.