She studied theatre at Towson State College, and married Randy Hesse in 1971 before completing her studies. She finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland in English, Psychology, and Anthropology , during which she began writing poetry. After graduating, she moved with her husband to Brattleboro, Vermont, had two children, took jobs in publishing, and started writing children's books. Her first novel was a rejected story about meeting Bigfoot, but her next proposal became the novel Wish on a Unicorn.
Out of the Dust is a story of a girl living through the dust bowl of the depression. The central character accidentally injures her pregnant mother by throwing a bucket of flaming kerosene on her. After the mother dies, Billie Jo and her father try continue with their lives.
She tackled a more disturbing subject in her book Witness. Here, the newly invigorated Klan of the 1920s (in this book, 1924 and '25) tries to take over a small Vermont town. The book is written from the perspectives of several people- Merlin Van Tornhout and Johnny Reeves, both members of the Ku Klux Klan, Sara Chickering, a farmer, Esther Hirsh, a six-year-old Jewish girl, Leonora Sutter, an African American girl, Iris Weaver, a resteraunteur, Harvey and Viola Pettibone, who are shop owners, Reynard Alexander, a newspaper editor, Fitzgerald Flitt, the doctor, and Percelle Johnson, the town constable. In Witness Hesse continues the distinctive poetic/prose style she pioneered in Out of the Dust.
She also wrote The Music of Dolphins, about a girl who was raised by dolphins.Stowaway, based on the true story of an 11-year-old boy who stowed away on Captain James Cook's ship Endeavour in 1768.Brooklyn Bridge is based on the true story of the family that created the teddy bear in Brooklyn in 1903.