Wolf was born in San Francisco, California in 1962 of Jewish descent. Her mother is Deborah Goleman who is an anthropologist and the author of "The Lesbian Community". Her father, Leonard Wolf, is also an author. She attended Lowell High School and debated in regional speech tournaments as a member of the Lowell Forensic Society. She attended Yale University, where she received in 1984 her Bachelor of Arts in English literature; she was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford from 1985 to 1987.