Born in Vienna, Austria, she won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1983 for her book Is There No Place on Earth for Me? The book details the experiences of a young New York City woman diagnosed with schizophrenia. Portions of the book were published in The New Yorker, for which she has written frequently since 1961 as a staff writer. Her work as a contributing writer has also appeared in The New York Times and Architectural Digest.
In 1986, Sheehan published in The New Yorker “A Missing Plane,” a three-part series about the U.S. Army’s attempt to identify the remains of the victims of a 1944 airplane crash. In About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, Ben Yagoda called the article “exhaustive and ultimately exhausting.”
Her husband is the journalist Neil Sheehan, who also won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction  for A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam in 1989. Sheehan and her husband live in Washington, DC.
Her other works include:
- 1967 Ten Vietnamese
- 1976 A welfare mother
- 1978 A prison and a prisoner
- 1984 Kate Quinton's days
- 1986 A missing plane
- 1991 Robert Indiana prints: a catalogue raisonne, 1951-1991
- 1993 Life for Me Ain't Been No Crystal Stair
- 2002 The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer: Hobbies, Collecting, and Other Passionate Pursuits (co-written with Howard Means)
- Warren, James (1990-04-15). "The remarkable Sheehans: 2 Pulitzer prize winners, a good marriage, some tortuous times". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
- Warren, James (1993-09-26). "She Needs Her Space". Chicago Tribune.
- Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Clarage, Elizabeth C. (1999). "Profiles of the winners: General non-fiction". Who's who of Pulitzer Prize winners. pp. 268–269. ISBN 1-57356-111-8.
- "Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Non-Fiction". The Pulitzer Prizes -- Columbia University. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
- "Susan Sheehan Books, Author Bio, Book Review & More at Alibris Marketplace". Alibris. Retrieved 26 April 2013.