A 1963 graduate of Barnard College, which is a women's liberal arts college, and with an M.A. in 18th century English Literature from Columbia University (1965), Jong is best known for her first novel, Fear of Flying first published in 1973, which created a sensation with its frank treatment of a woman's sexual desires.
Jong wrote Fear of Flying in the first person, and her main character suffers from the fear of flying in more than one way, including the literal one. As her airline flight is taking off from New York on its way to Vienna in Austria, she says, "My fingers (and toes) turn to ice, my stomach leaps upward into my rib cage, the temperature in the tip of my nose drops to the same level as the temperature in my fingers, my nipples stand up and salute the inside of my bra (or in this case, dress--since I'm not wearing a bra)..." She created a new type of heroine, that used an affair as a means to self-discovery, breaking the boundaries of the traditional narratives in which affairs lead to disaster.
Jong has been married four times. Her first two marriages, to college sweetheart Michael Werthman and to Allan Jong, a Chinese-American psychiatrist, share many similarities to those of the narrator described in Fear of Flying. Her third husband was Jonathan Fast, a novelist and social work educator, and son of novelist Howard Fast (this marriage was described in How to Save Your Own Life and Parachutes and Kisses). Her daughter from her third marriage, Molly Jong-Fast, has published a novel (Normal Girl) and a memoir (Girl, Maladjusted). Jong-Fast's writing speaks of the emptiness she encountered in trying to live out the sexual liberties lauded in her mother's work. Jong-Fast is working on her third book, a novel (The Social Climber's Handbook).
Jong is now married to Ken Burrows, a New York divorce lawyer. In the late 1990s Jong wrote an article about her fourth marriage in the magazine Talk. Since she and her prospective husband knew much about the hazards of marriage, they drew up a prenuptial agreement. After ten years, they noticed that they had never taken it out of the drawer where it had resided since its signing. She and her husband decided that it was no longer needed, so they ceremoniously burned it. This act has become a tradition in some circles.
Jong lived for three years, 1966-69 in Heidelberg, Germany, with her second husband, while he was stationed at an army base there. She was a frequent visitor to Venice, and wrote about that city in her novel, Shylock's Daughter. Jong was mentioned in the Bob Dylan song "Highlands".
In 2007, her literary archive was acquired by Columbia University in New York City.