Ai, who described herself as 1/2 Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche, was born in Albany, Texas, in 1947. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona.
She legally changed her name to "Ai," which means "love" in Japanese. Ai received a B.A. in Japanese from the University of Arizona and an M.F.A. from the University of California at Irvine.
She is the author of Dread (W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Vice (1999), which won the National Book Award for Poetry; Greed (1993); Fate (1991); Sin (1986), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; Killing Floor (1979), which was the 1978 Lamont Poetry Award of the Academy of American Poets; and Cruelty (1973).
She also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bunting Fellowship Program at Radcliffe College. She taught at Oklahoma State University and lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Ai died on March 20, 2010.