Cardiff is of Irish and Welsh descent on her mother's side, and she is descended from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on her father's side. She makes use of her cultural heritage in her work, referencing especially Cherokee place names in her poetry.
Cardiff won Governor's Writer's Award for her first book of poetry, To Frighten a Storm, in 1976. She published A Bare Unpainted Table in 1999. She received awards from the Seattle Arts Commission in 1985 and 1986. "In 1988 she was a co-recipient of the University of Washington's Louisa Kerns Award for literary endeavors." Her poetry has been featured by The Poetry Foundation.