Kauffman was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She has taught in the English Department at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, Michigan since 1988. She received her PhD from University of Chicago in 1972.
Kauffman was instrumental in establishing EMU's Creative Writing Master's degree program, which has received national attention through its unconventional approach to writing. In her classes, Kauffman challenges her students to re-think the definition of "book" and ways in which to use text to communicate ideas. Her unusual approach to creative writing workshops includes creating deformed books, constructions with found objects and original or "borrowed" text, creative alphabets, micro-collections, and engineered books.
Kauffman has been the recipient of numerous awards, including:
- Michigan Arts Award, 1997
- Creative Artist Grants
- Michigan Council for the Arts 1984 and 1987
- National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1985
- Rosenthal Award, American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters, 1983
Her passions include fighting the pollution of industrial agriculture, which has been the focus of much of her recent work, including the book Trespassing; Dirt Stories & Field Notes (2008), and the mixed media project, "The Violence of Plowshares." This 2006 exhibit draws on her experience in Michigan with factory farms, using items from her childhood growing up on a tobacco farm and other found objects. As the exhibit notes state:
The vision of farming as a peaceful way of life, surrounded by idyllic and pastoral landscapes, is a deeply-rooted dream in American life. That dream has turned nightmare where I live, and in many areas of the country.
- Poetry collections
- Writing Home, with Jerome McGann (Coldwater Press, 1978)
- The Weather Book (Texas Tech University Press, 1981)
- Where the World Is (Montparnasse Press, 1988)
- Five on Fiction (Burning Deck Press, 2004)
- oh corporeal (Coldwater Press, 2010)
- Story collections
- Places in the World a Woman Could Walk (Knopf, 1983)
- Obscene Gestures for Women (Knopf, 1989)
- Characters on the Loose (Graywolf, 1997)
- Trespassing: Dirt Stories & Field Notes (stories and essays) (Wayne State University Press, 2008)
- Collaborators (Knopf, 1986)
- The Body in Four Parts (Graywolf, 1994)
- Rot (New Issues, 2001)