Mary Oppen, née Colby, was born in Kalispell, Montana, and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She painted and wrote poetry. She met George Oppen, also a poet, in 1928 while both were students at Oregon State University. Together, they would have a daughter and share risks and adventures as part of an artistic and itinerant life. They moved to New York City, where they joined a circle of artists and writers and became involved in left-wing politics. They moved to France and traveled extensively in Europe, returning to the USA in 1935 alarmed by the rise of fascism. They joined the Communist Party and the Workers Alliance, and worked as organizers for groups and actions supporting the rights of workers. George Oppen fought in World War II and was severely wounded. In 1950, rather than testify against friends and associates to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the couple fled to Mexico City, where they became part of an American ex-pat community. They returned to New York City in 1958, and later took up residence in the San Francisco Bay area. Mary Oppen wrote her autobiography, Meaning a Life: An Autobiography, published in 1978. In 1980, she published Poems & Transpositions. Her prints, paintings and collages were exhibited in several shows, including the 19th National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress in 1963.