Friesner attended the Hunter College High School, a public magnet high school in New York City, as well as Vassar College. She holds a Ph.D. in Spanish and was a college professor before becoming a writer.
In addition to short stories, she has published a number of novels and is a prolific editor of anthologies. Among her recent books are Nobody's Princess, which takes the Greek legend of Helen of Sparta and gives it a new beginning, and its sequel, Nobody's Prize. She is a frequent guest of honor at science fiction conventions, having appeared at Bubonicon, Arisia, Boskone, Baycon and Albacon in the 1990s and into the 21st century.