Jolas was born in Paris in 1926. Her mother, the American translator Maria McDonald, was a singer. Her father, the poet and journalist Eugene Jolas, founded and edited the magazine transition, which published over ten years most of the great names of the interwar period.
Her family settled in the United States in late 1940. While completing her general studies in New York, then specializing in music at Bennington College, she joined the Dessoff Choirs, thus discovering Renaissance music which was to have a lasting influence on her work.
Having returned to Paris in 1946, Jolas resumed her studies at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique, notably with Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen. From 1971 to 1974 she served as Messiaen's assistant at the Conservatoire and was appointed herself to the faculty in 1975. She has since then also taught in the United States, at Yale, Harvard, Mills College (D. Milhaud chair), the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego, at Tanglewood and the University of Michigan.
Jolas is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1983) and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1995).
After graduating from Bennington College, Jolas returned to Paris in 1946 to continue her studies with Milhaud and Messiaen at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique of Paris.
Her numerous works (she has been composing steadily since 1945) are written for a great variety of combinations and have been widely performed internationally by artists such as Kent Nagano, Anssi Karttunen, Claude Delangle, William Christie, Håkan Hardenberger, Antoine Tamestit, Nicolas Hodges and Sir Simon Rattle, and leading ensembles and orchestras including: the Ensemble intercontemporain, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Biography taken from Wikipedia.