Vogel is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning play How I Learned To Drive, which deals with child sexual abuse and incest. The Baltimore Waltz, won the Obie award for Best Play in 1992. Other plays include Hot 'N Throbbing, Desdemona, And Baby Makes Seven, The Mineola Twins, and The Oldest Profession. According to Paula Vogel, "My writing isn't actually guided by issues. I know it seems that way, but I don't sit down and think, Oh, there's this issue I'm bothered about. I only write about things that directly impact my life. When I write, there's a pain that I have to reach, and a release I have to work toward for myself. So it's really a question of the particular emotional circumstance that I want to express, a character that appears, a moment in time, and then I write the play backwards." Vogel's family, especially her brother Carl Vogel, serves as an influence to her writings. Carl's likeness appears in such plays as "The Long Christmas Ride Home," "The Baltimore Waltz," and "And Baby Makes Seven." Although not known for having one specific theme throughout her plays she deals largely with issues that are traditionally upsetting. Theatre Critic Jill Dolan comments that “Vogel tends to select sensitive, difficult, fraught issues to theatricalize, and to spin them with a dramaturgy that’s at once creative, highly imaginative, and brutally honest."
A renowned teacher of playwriting, Vogel counts among her former students Bridget Carpenter, Adam Bock, MacArthur Fellow Sarah Ruhl, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Nilo Cruz . As of July 1, 2008, she will be an adjunct professor and the chairwoman of the playwriting department at Yale School of Drama in a five-year appointment. She will also be the Playwright-in-Residence at Yale Repertory Theatre She has been the Adele Kellenberg Seaver Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University since 2003. She previously was an instructor at Cornell University, Theatre Arts and Women's Studies. At Brown University: from 1985-1999, she was a Professor (Assistant-Associate-Full), from 1999-2003, Professor at Large.
She received the 2004 Award for Literature from The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 2003, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts instituted The Paula Vogel Award in Playwrighting. According to the regulations of the competition the "this award is offered to the best student-written play that celebrates diversity and encourages tolerance while exploring issues of dis-empowered voices not traditionally considered mainstream." The award was inspired by her superior work as an undergraduate student at Cornell University. The first place prize is a $2500 fellowship to attend at New Play Development Laboratory. Second prize is $1000 and a grant of $250 to the supporting department of the play.
Her father, the late Donald S. Vogel, was Jewish and mother, the late Phyllis R. Vogel, was Christian. Her father was the founder of the Carl Vogel Center in Washington, DC, a service provider for people with HIV and AIDS, created as a memorial to Vogel's brother. Her mother worked at the Postal Service Training and Development Center.
On September 26, 2004, Vogel and Anne Fausto-Sterling, a Brown professor, were married in Truro, Massachusetts.