Sylvia Wilkinson was born in Durham, North Carolina in the United States. She graduated from Woman's College, now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in 1962. She received her master's degree from Hollins College in 1963 and studied at Stanford University under a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship 1965-66.
Wilkinson taught at various institutions including the Universities of North Carolina at Asheville and Chapel Hill, the College of William & Mary, Sweet Briar College, Hollins University, Washington University and the University of Wisconsinâ€“Milwaukee. She is a teaching scholar with the National Faculty. She received a number of literary awards including the Sir Walter Raleigh Award twiceâ€”in 1968 for A Killing Frost, and again in 1978 for Shadow of the Mountain, a Eugene Saxton Grant, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the UNC - Greensboro Alumnae Service Award, and a Mademoiselle Merit Award for Literature. She has published 25 books: 6 novels for adults, 3 adult non fiction works and 16 juveniles with automotive themes. She was a Motorsports Correspondent for Autoweek and is currently a World Book Encyclopedia contributor on auto racing. She was an auto racing timer and scorer for many years for numerous drivers including Paul Newman, Al Unser Sr., Bobby Rahal and Keke Rosberg.