Tiempo was born in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. Her poems are intricate verbal transfigurations of significant experiences as revealed, in two of her much anthologized pieces, "Lament for the Littlest Fellow" and "Bonsai." As fictionist, Tiempo is as morally profound. Her language has been marked as "descriptive but unburdened by scrupulous detailing." She is an influential tradition in Philippine literature in English. Together with her late husband, writer and critic Edilberto K. Tiempo, they founded (in 1962) and directed the Silliman National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City, which has produced some of the Philippines' best writers.