Charters was born on November 10, 1936 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She is a professor of American Literature at the University of Connecticut at Storrs and has been interested in Beat writers since 1956, when as an undergraduate English major at the University of California, Berkeley (B.A. 1957) she attended the repeat performance of the Six Gallery Poetry reading in San Francisco where Allen Ginsberg gave his second public reading of "Howl." She began collecting books written by Beat writers when she was a graduate student at Columbia University (M.A. 1960; Ph.D 1965), and after completing her doctorate she worked with Jack Kerouac to compile his bibliography. After his death she wrote the first Kerouac biography (Kerouac: A Biography); published in 1973, Charters' book is unique as she was the only biographer who had access to Kerouac and interviewed him about the circumstances in which he wrote his books. She also edited his posthumous collection Scattered Poems. She has written a literary study of Charles Olson and biographies of black entertainer Bert Williams and (with her husband) the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. She was the general editor of the two volume encyclopedia The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America and has published a collection of her photographic portraits of well-known writers in the book Beats & Company. She is also the editor of numerous volumes on Beat and 1960s American literature, including The Portable Beat Reader, The Portable Sixties Reader, Beat Down To Your Soul, The Portable Jack Kerouac, and in 2010 Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation, which she co-authored with her husband Samuel Charters, a musicologist. Her photographs of the Nobel-Prize winning Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer illustrate Samuel Charters' English translation of Transtromer's long poem Baltics (2012). She also photographed the American poet Charles Olson in Gloucester, Massachusetts in her book of their letters, Evidence of What Is Said (2015).