She grew up in Margate City, NJ, where her parents owned a liquor store. She attended Goucher College, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1968 with her bachelor’s degree. She pursued a master’s degree at Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton, and graduated in 1970. From 1970–1974, Bass worked as an administrator at Project Place, a social service center in Boston. She currently is teaching in the low residency MFA program at Pacific University in Oregon and has been teaching Writing About Our Lives workshops since 1974 in Santa Cruz, California.
Her poems have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including The Atlantic Monthly, Ms., The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and Field. Much of her earlier writing is confessional poetry.
Her nonfiction books include I Never Told Anyone, Free Your Mind, and The Courage to Heal, which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into twelve languages.
She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a fellowship from the California Arts Council.
Selected works 
- I'm not your laughing daughter. University of Massachusetts Press. 1973. ISBN 978-0-87023-128-5.
- No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women, co-edited with Florence Howe (Doubleday, 1973) ISBN 978-0-385-02553-9
- Mules of Love. BOA Editions. 2002. ISBN 978-1-929918-22-5.
- The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007) ISBN 978-1-55659-255-3
- I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins 1983, 1991) (co-authored with Louise Thornton and others)
- The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins 1988, 1994) (co-authored with Laura Davis)
- Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Men and Women Who Were Sexually Abused as Children (HarperCollins 1993, 2003) (co-authored with Laura Davis)
- Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (HarperCollins, 1996) (co-authored with Kate Kaufman)
Children’s Books 
- I like you to make jokes with me, but I don’t want you to touch me (Lollipop Power, 1981; Carolina Wren Press, 1993)