Daughter of a teacher and a judge, the eldest of six children, Peery grew up in Kansas and Wisconsin. Before turning to fiction writing at forty, she held a series of odd jobs, waiting tables, working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor and as a hospital respiratory therapy technician. She attended Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia from 1966 to 1968 and graduated from Wichita State University with a B.A. in Speech Pathology and Audiology in 1975 and an M.F.A. in Fiction in 1992. She has three daughters and five grandchildren.
Sometimes considered a "writer's writer" for her dense prose and stories that pay close attention to craft, she has had works published in literary journals including Shenandoah, The Kenyon Review, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, 64 Magazine, Southern Review, Image: A Journal of Religion and the Arts, Chattahoochee Review, Kansas Quarterly, New Virginia Review, Blackbird, American Short Fiction, and Southwest Review,. She has won the Seaton Award from Kansas Quarterly, the Jeanne Charpiot Goodheart Prize from Washington and Lee University (twice), two Pushcart Prizes and inclusion in The Best of the Pushcart Prize, selection for Best American Short Stories 1993 (ed. Louise Erdrich), and five citations for 100 Distinguished Stories from Best American Short Stories. Her novel The River Beyond the World was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1996. What the Thunder Said, a novella and stories, won the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction in 2008 and the 2008 WILLA Award from Women Writing the West for Contemporary Fiction. Her work often explores race, class, religion, and gender, flight and renewal in the new American West, domesticity, loss, violence, mystery and aging.
She teaches at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where she is designated University Professor and was the recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia. She has given readings at many American colleges and universities, has taught at Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers, Antioch University LA, Sweet Briar College, Glen Workshop at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, Sewanee Writers Conference and other conferences. She has served as Writer in Residence for the National Book Foundation's American Voices Project on the Rosebud Reservation in Mission, South Dakota and Rocky Boy's Reservation in Montana.
- 1992 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
- 1993 Whiting Writers' Award
- 1994 Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 1996 National Book Award Finalist
- 1998 Guggenheim Fellowship
- 2008 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction
- 2008 WILLA Award for Contemporary Fiction from Women Writing the West
- Alligator Dance SMU Press 1993 reprint. Picador USA. 1998. ISBN 978-0-312-18038-6.
- The River Beyond the World. Picador/St. Martin's. 1996. ISBN 978-0-312-16986-2.
- What the Thunder Said. Picador/St. Martin's. 2007. ISBN 978-0-312-25263-2.
- John Updike, Larry Woiwode, Diane Johnson, ed. (1993). Best American Short Stories 1993. Houghton Mifflin.
- Bill Henderson, ed. (2008). The Pushcart Book of Short Stories: The Best Short Stories from the Pushcart Prize. Pushcart Press. ISBN 978-1-888889-28-4.
- Megan Harlan (November 10, 1996). "The Maid". The New York Times.
- Review of Alligator Dance from The New York Times*