Her father, Walter J. Enright, was a political cartoonist; her mother, Maginel Wright Enright, was a book and magazine illustrator and the younger sister of renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
In her later life, Maginel also was a shoe designer for Capezio, and she wrote a memoir of her mother's family, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses. The Enrights divorced after World War I, when Elizabeth was still a child; her mother remarried and thereafter was known as Maginel Wright Barney.
Enright studied at the Art Students League of New York in 1927-28, and at the Parsons School of Design. Like her mother, Enright began a career in illustration for magazines and children's books; she illustrated Marion King's Kees in 1930, and Nellie Marie Rowe's The Crystal Locket in 1935. As her career progressed, she shifted her focus primarily to writing. She wrote and illustrated her own children's books in the 1930s and '40s, though after 1951 her children's books were illustrated by other artists. She was awarded both the Newbery Medal, for Thimble Summer in 1939, and the Newbery Honor, for Gone-Away Lake in 1958. She also reviewed children's literature for The New York Times.
Thimble Summer, her Newbery Medal book, draws upon her summers spent on Frank Lloyd Wright's farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and incorporates family background from her mother and grandmother. Gone-Away Lake received the New York Herald Tribune's Children's Spring Book Festival Award in 1957, in addition to the 1958 Newbery Honor. In 1963 the American Library Association named Gone-Away Lake as the U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Anderson Award. Tatsinda was an Honor Book in the 1963 New York Herald Tribune's Children's Spring Book Festival.
Perhaps her most beloved books, however, are the Melendy Quartet, a series of four children's novels published between 1941 and 1951: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two. Among the many writers who cite Enright's books as childhood favorites are film critic Roger Ebert and Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park.
Enright also wrote short stories for adult readers, published in The New Yorker,The Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, The Yale Review,Harper's Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post. Her stories were reprinted in the anthologies The Best American Short Stories (in 1951 and 1952) and O. Henry Prize Stories (in 1946, 1949, 1950, and 1960), and were collected in Borrowed Summer and Other Stories (1946), The Moment Before the Rain (1951), and The Riddle of the Fly (1956). Her final book, Doublefields: Memories and Stories (1966) is a combination of short fiction and tales from her own life experiences.
Elizabeth Enright married Robert Gillham on April 24, 1930, and they had three sons: Nicholas, Robert and Oliver. She taught creative writing at Barnard College from 1960 to 1962. Enright died at her home in Wainscott, Long Island in 1968. She is buried near Spring Green in the Wyoming Valley region of Wisconsin.