Born on March 12, 1934, Virginia Esther Hamilton was born to Kenneth and Etta Belle (née Perry) Hamilton in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The land upon which she was reared with her four older siblings had been in her mother’s family since the 1850s when her grandfather, Levi Perry, had been brought into Ohio. As an infant, he was carried on the Underground Railroad into Ohio, a free state.
Growing up with extended family in the rural area of southwestern Ohio greatly influenced Virginia. A bright child, she was strongly encouraged and supported to read and write. Hamilton excelled so academically, it led her to graduate at the top of her class and earn a full-scholarship to Antioch College, a local institution of higher learning. She transferred, in 1956, to the Ohio State University, where she majored in creative writing and literature.
Two years later, she moved to New York City, where she worked a variety of positions, including as a museum receptionist. In developing herself to become a published author, she studied fiction writing at the New School for Social Research under the guidance of Hiram Haydn, a founder of Atheneum Press.