Lau was born in Vancouver, British Columbia to Hong Kong Canadian parents, who intended for her to eventually become a doctor. Her parents' ambitions for her were wholly irreconcilable with her own; consequently, her home and school lives were desperately unhappy. She also attended Templeton Secondary School in Vancouver. In 1986 she ran away from her unbearable existence as a pariah in school and tyrannized daughter at home.
Evelyn Lau began publishing poetry at the age of 12; her creative efforts helped her escape the pressure of home and school. In 1985, at age 14, Lau left home and spent the next several years living itinerantly in Vancouver as a homeless person, sleeping mainly in shelters, friends' homes and on the street. She also became involved in prostitution and drug abuse.
Despite the chaos of her first two years' independence she submitted a great deal of poetry to journals and received some recognition. A diary she kept at the time was published in 1989 as Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid. The book was a critical and commercial success; Lau received praise for frankly chronicling her relationships with manipulative older men, the life and habits of a group of anarchists with whom she stayed immediately after leaving home, Lau's experiences with a couple from Boston who smuggled her into the United States, her abuse of various drugs, and her relationship with British Columbia's child support services. The film The Diary of Evelyn Lau (1993) starred Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh.
Lau had a well-publicized romantic relationship with University of Victoria creative writing professor and author W. P. Kinsella, more than 30 years her senior, which led to the filing of a libel case against her after she wrote a personal essay on the relationship (the essay, "Me and W.P.", won a Western Magazine Award for Human Experience, and was shortlisted for the Gold Award for Best Article). Her work in magazines won four Western Magazine Awards and a National Magazine Award; she also received the Air Canada Award, the Vantage Women of Originality Award, the ACWW Community Builders Award, and the Mayor's Arts Award for Literary Arts. Her poems were selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry (1992) and Best Canadian Poetry (2009, 2010, 2011). Lau has also worked as writer-in-residence at University of British Columbia, Kwantlen University and Vancouver Community College. She currently lives in Vancouver, where she freelances as a manuscript consultant in Simon Fraser University's Writing and Publishing Program. On Oct. 14, 2011, Lau was named the poet laureate for the city of Vancouver. She is the third poet held this honorary position and her plan is to offer ‘poet-in-residence consultations with aspiring poets’.
- Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid - (HarperCollins,1989) (shortlisted for the Periodical Marketers of Canada Award. Translated into French, German, Italian, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Korean, Bulgarian, Hungarian)
- Inside Out: Reflection on a Life So Far - (Doubleday, 2001)
- You Are Not Who You Claim - (Beach Holme, 1990) (winner of the Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award) 
- Oedipal Dreams - (Beach Holme, 1992) (nominated for a Governor General's Award and featured in the Michael Radford film, "Dancing at the Blue Iguana")
- In the House of Slaves - (Coach House, 1994)
- Treble (Raincoast, 2005)
- Living Under Plastic (Oolichan, 2010)(winner of the Pat Lowther Award) ....
- A Grain of Rice (Oolichan, 2012) (shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Award and the Pat Lowther Award)
- Fresh Girls and Other Stories - (HarperCollins, 1993) (shortlisted for the QPB Award for Notable New Fiction. Translated into German, Chinese, Dutch, Danish, Japanese, Italian, Hungarian)
- Choose Me - (Doubleday, 1999) (translated into Japanese, Swedish)
Significant Essays and Short Pieces
- "I Sing the Song of my Condo" Globe and Mail (1995)
- "An Insatiable Emptiness" The Georgia Straight (1995)
- "On the Road with Family, Friends, and the Usual Questions" Vancouver Sun (1995)
- "Me and W.P. " Vancouver Magazine (1997)
- "Lay Off Me and W.P. " Globe and Mail (1998)
- Other Women - (Random House,1995) (translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Danish, Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, Polish)
- "Evelyn Lau". Geist (magazine). Retrieved 2009-05-12. "Evelyn Lau is a Vancouver writer who has published eight books, including three volumes of poetry. Her most recent book of non-fiction, Inside Out: Reflections of a Life So Far, was published in 2002 and her poetry collection, Treble, will be published by Raincoast in 2005."
- "Evelyn Lau". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-05-12. "Evelyn Lau, poet, short-story writer, novelist (b at Vancouver 2 July 1971). An award-winning student, Evelyn Lau's first work was published when she was in away at age 14. She spent 2 years on the streets of Vancouver, during which time she twice attempted suicide and became involved in prostitution and drug abuse."
- biography Athabasca University Centre for Language and Literature
- Lederman, Marsha (October 14, 2011). "Evelyn Lau named Vancouver poet laureate". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved January 31, 2012.
- "Winners of the Pat Lowther & Gerald Lampert Memorial Awards Announced". Open Book: Toronto.