Paul Mariah was born in Whittington, Illinois. He served time in the early 1960s in the Menard Correctional Center, an experience that profoundly influenced his life’s work. A pioneer of the gay literary scene in San Francisco, Mariah cofounded Manroot Books with Richard Tagett in 1969. The press published many notable writers of the San Francisco Renaissance and the Stonewall era, issued bilingual editions of French writers such as Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet, and spurred renewed interest in 19th-century prison reformer Robert Ingersoll.

Mariah published two collections of poetry in his lifetime: Personae Non Gratae (1971) and This Light Will Spread (1978).