Jean Goulbourne was born in rural Jamaica in St Elizabeth, and grew up in Cross Keys, Manchester. Her first slim collection of poems, Actors in the Arena, was published by Savacou in 1977. A second pamphlet, Under the Sun was published by The New Voices in Trinidad in 1988.
In addition to poetry Jean Goulbourne has written both a novel, Excavation (Peepal Tree, 1997), which draws on her background of studying history, and an as yet unpublished collection of short stories which won the 1993 Jamaica prize. She was the recipient of a James Michener Fellowship and an honorary fellowship at the Iowa Institute of Writing Programme. In recent years she has returned to her beginnings to teach and live in Cross Keys, Manchester.