Kathleen Fraser grew up in Oklahoma, Colorado, and California. She graduated from Occidental College (California) with a degree in English literature in 1959, and then worked in New York City for Mademoiselle magazine before pursuing her poetic studies. Fraser was influenced by Black Mountain, New York School, and Objectivist poets, including Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, and George Oppen. She  published more than 15 books, including mixed-genre collections, a chapbook of collaged wall pieces, and an essay collection.
Fraser's published works include What I Want (1973), New Shoes (1978), Each Next: narratives (1980), Notes Preceding Trust (1987), when new time folds up (1993), Wing (1995), il cuore : the heart—Selected Poems 1970–1995 (1997), Discrete Categories Forced into Coupling (2004), and Moveable Tyype (2011). Her honors and awards included the New School’s Frank O’Hara Poetry Prize and the American Academy’s Discovery Award, as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Fraser was the founder of the American Poetry Archives, which she created while she was directing the Poetry Center and teaching at San Francisco State University from 1972 to 1992. She also wrote and narrated the hour-long video Working Women in Literature. From 1983 to 1991 she published and edited the journal HOW(ever), which focused on innovative writing by contemporary women.
Fraser split her time between San Francisco and Rome before her death in early 2019.