Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Valerie Laken majored in English and Russian at the University of Iowa, then worked and studied in Moscow, Prague, Krakow, and Madison, before moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan. She received an MA in Slavic Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, where she taught for several years. She teaches in the Creative Writing program at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
Her work has appeared in such places as Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Writer, and The Chicago Tribune. Her honors include a Pushcart Prize, an Anne Powers Prize, two Hopwood Awards, a Missouri Review Editors' Prize, and an honorable mention in the Best American Short Stories.