She is the daughter of Robb White, who was a fiction writer, and Rosalie White (née' Mason), a farmer. White grew up with her mother in Georgia, while her father lived and wrote in Hollywood. Her mother, and her South Georgian eccentricity, have been central to her writing. Her mother died in 1994.
After graduating from Florida State University in 1973, Miss White moved to California, where she married her father's best friend. After 11 years of marriage, she returned to Georgia where she taught, for more than twenty years, at the school she attended as a girl. Her friend, Daniel Pinkwater, convinced her to submit some commentaries to NPR. Her gravelly voice and gift for portraying the unusual personalities of people in the rural South with gentle wit proved very popular with her NPR audience. In 1999, she left teaching to concentrate on her writing.