Adalet Ağaoğlu was born in the Nallıhan province of Ankara. She graduated from Ankara Girls High School in 1946. In 1950, she received her undergraduate degree in French Language and Literature at Language and History-Geography Faculty, which is now a part of Ankara University. She worked for the state radio in Ankara and TRT (Turkish Radio Television-Broadcasting), when it was founded. She resigned in 1970, when the broadcasting management was centralized by the state. She was one of the founders of Ankara Meydan Sahnesi and she worked as a translator, as well as a dramaturge.
Ağaoğlu began her writing career with critical reviews of drama, which were published in Ulus, the Ankara daily. Her first poem, Gölgeler (Shadows) was published in October 1948, in Kaynak, a literary journal. However, her earlier works were theatrical pieces for the stage and the radio. Her first play was Bir Piyes Yazalım (1953, Let’s Write a Play), co-authored with Sevim Uzgören. She wrote many plays in the 20 years between 1953 and 1973. Yet, her literary production concentrated chiefly on novels from the early 1970s onward.
In 1973, she published Ölmeye Yatmak (Lying Down to Die), her first novel. With this novel, a new literary period began in Ağaoğlu's life. She described this transition as a necessary step to depict time more effectively, because the novel, as one of the most formalistically adaptable genres, provided her with the opportunity to represent time in a flexible fashion. Accordingly, the author's utilization of time in her novels is particularly acute and is effective in multiple dimensions, establishing a complex structure of meanings. In fact, even though it was not really planned, she wrote Bir Düğün Gecesi (A Wedding Night, 1979) and Hayır... (No..., 1987) as sequels to her first novel, thus producing a trilogy that she later named "Dar Zamanlar." The overall title of this trilogy could be roughly translated as “tight / narrow / hard / contracted times.” The contraction or narrowness of the times refers both to the hardships, limitations and oppressiveness of the periods that the works portray and the actual briefness of the "narrated time," through which an immense social and political history was told. Ağaoğlu wrote a total of eight novels since her first one.
From the early stages of her writing life, Adalet Ağaoğlu has had a strong intellectual and political stance, which is clearly manifest in her works. She has chosen to speak out on sensitive issues that required a courageousness of expression. She has been very much concerned with two main issues regarding Turkey's social and literary history. First one of these is the problematically contradictory nature of Turkish Republicanism. She deconstructs the idealism of the Republican ideology employed in Turkey, in an attempt to reveal its fault-lines. Such an approach is vital for her perception of intellectuality, for it would be possible to instigate a change that might improve the problematic aspects of a system, only if its flaws are recognized. The second issue that she tackles in her literary and critical works is the position of women in Turkish society and the double standard that is embedded within it. Being a female author often writing about the lives of female characters, her depictions of women are manifestoes of a peculiarly Turkish feminism. She focuses not only on the struggle of women to attain basic rights, but also on the burden that overwhelms those who are, technically, socially liberated.
In 1974, she received the Turkish Language Association Drama award with her Üç Oyun (Three Plays) and in 1975, Sait Faik Short-Story Award with “Yüksek Gerilim.” She was also awarded the 1979 Sedat Simavi Foundation Literature Prize with Bir Düğün Gecesi, 1980 Orhan Kemal Novel Award and 1980 Madaralı Novel Award. In 1992, Türkiye İş Bankası Literature Drama Award was given to her Çok Uzak Fazla Yakın (Very Close, Too Far), followed by Turkey Presidential Grand Prize for Culture and Arts in 1995 and Aydın Doğan Foundation Novel Award with ROMANTİK Bir Viyana Yazı in 1997. She was the Honorary Writer of the 1994 TUYAP International Book Fair in Istanbul and she also received honorary doctorates from Eskişehir Anadolu University and Ohio State University in 1998.
Adalet Ağaoğlu is married and she lives in Istanbul. She is an honorary member of Edebiyatçılar Derneği, founding member of Türkiye Yazarlar Sendikası and member of the Human Rights Association in Turkey. A prolific writer, she has contributed to Turkish literature in various genres such as plays, novels, essays and memoirs, which earned her distinguished rewards. In addition to the below listed works, she is published in many journals, newspapers and edited collections.