Born in Kraków, Poland, shortly after World War II. Her parents, Boris and Maria Wydra, survived the Holocaust by hiding in a forest bunker and then by being hidden in a peasant's barn. In 1959, at the age of 13, she emigrated with her parents and sister to Vancouver, British Columbia. Upon graduating from high school she received a scholarship and studied English literature at Rice University in Houston, Yale School of Music, and Harvard University. At the latter university, she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature in 1975.
Hoffman has been a professor of literature and creative writing at various institutions, such as Columbia University, the University of Minnesota, Tufts, and CUNY's Hunter College. From 1979 to 1990, she worked as an editor and writer at The New York Times, serving as senior editor of "The Book Review" from 1987 to 1990. In 1990, she received the Jean Stein Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1992, the Guggenheim Fellowship for General Nonfiction, as well as the Whiting Writers' Award. In 2000, Eva Hoffman was the Year 2000 Una Lecturer at the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2008, she was awarded an honorary DLitt by the University of Warwick. She has presented radio programmes and is the recipient of the Prix Italia for radio.
She presently lives in London.