In 1919, Madeline DeFrees was born in Ontario, Oregon and moved to Hillsboro in 1923. After graduation from St. Mary's Academy in Portland, she entered the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, where she was known for many years as Sister Mary Gilbert.
After receiving a BA degree from Maryhurst College and an MA from the University of Oregon, she taught at Holy Names College in Spokane from 1950 to 1967. While still a nun, she taught at the University of Montana, in Missoula, from 1967 to 1979. In late 1973 she was dispensed from her religious vows. She taught at the University of Massachusetts from 1979 to 1985, after which she retired to Seattle.
DeFrees is the author of several full-length poetry collections, including Spectral Waves (Copper Canyon Press, 2006); and Blue Dusk (Copper Canyon, 2001), winner of the 2002 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and a Washington Book Award, and two chapbooks, as well as two non-fiction books about convent life. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts.