Born in Chicago, Grahn was raised in New Mexico and has lived in northern California since 1968. In 1969 she began publishing her own work and founded the first all-women's press, the Women's Press Collective, where she has worked as editor, printer, bookkeeper, and fund-raiser. In 1984 she received a BA from San Francisco State University.
A poet, novelist, feminist theorist, and playwright, Grahn is best known for her poetry collection, The Work of a Common Woman, which celebrates the lives of ordinary women, and the long poem A Woman Is Talking to Death. Grahn's introduction to theatre started early in her career when she collaborated with a musician and dancer to create a performance art piece in San Francisco in the late 1960s, and she continues to perform work in collaboration with other artists. Most of her poetry has been staged as drama or mixed with music and dance. The Common Woman Poems received many amateur presentations in the 1970s and was performed by a lesbian jazz quartet on the West Coast. One of her short stories, The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke, was adapted as part of an off-Broadway production by Jonathan Katz. Portions of A Woman Is Talking to Death were incorporated into a Dance Brigade production which toured in the 1970s.
The Queen of Wands, a book-length set of related poems that trace Helen, a goddess of weaving, was adapted and performed by the Golden Gate Players in San Francisco and then toured England and Amsterdam. A full-length verse play, The Queen of Swords, was adapted by Grahn, with dramaturgical assistance from director Adele Prandini of Theatre Rhinoceros who produced the play.
Grahn teaches women's writing workshops and classes and has taught courses