She graduated from Wellesley College with a B.A. in English literature in 1966. Alther is the author of six novels, Kinflicks, Original Sins, Other Women, Bedrock, Five Minutes In Heaven, and Washed in the Blood, as well as a small number of published short stories and many magazine articles.
She has also written two non-fiction books, Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree—the Search for My Melungeon Ancestors (2007; ISBN 1-55970-832-8) and Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance (2012; ISBN 978-0762779185).
Between 1978 and 1980, Alther lived in London. Having became friends with the writer Doris Lessing, Lessing took an interest in her novel Kinflicks and helped get the work published in London, through a contact of hers, Bob Gottlieb at the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. 
It was through Doris Lessing that Alther met the writer, thinker and teacher of Sufi mysticism, Idries Shah. Shah had adapted many Sufi classical works and teaching stories for contemporary readers, and, taking a great interest in these works, Alther read them all,  and she also wrote reviews for Shah's books, such as World Tales. 
- Kinflicks (1975)
- Original Sins (1981)
- Other Women (1985)
- Bedrock (1990)
- Five Minutes In Heaven (1995) 
- Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree--the Search for My Melungeon Ancestors (2007)
- Washed in the Blood (2011)
- Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance (2012)
- Other Women - briefly noted in The New Yorker 60/49 (21 January 1985): 94
- Alther, Lisa; Gilot, Francoise (Nov 2015). About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter. New York: Nan Talese Books, Knopf Doubleday. ISBN 038553986X.
- Alther, Lisa (21 Oct 1979). "Tales From All Over". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 21 Sep 2018. Retrieved 21 Sep 2018.
- Perrick, Penny (22 July 1995). "Just lighten up, Lisa (book review)". Times of London. Retrieved 13 January 2017.