She practiced social work while earning her master's degree in American literature from the City College of New York.
Bambara later studied at the University of Florence and the École de Mime Étienne Decorum in Paris. She taught at Spelman College, Livingston College, Duke University, City College of New York, and Rutgers University.
In the late 1960s, Bambara began to publish her first collection of short stories. During this time she was active in community organizations and civil rights.
For the organization, the SEEK project, (a social, educational and literary program for black women run by the City College of New York) she advised and assisted high school dropouts.
Gorilla, My Love was the first collection of her short stories that brought her critical attention.
Also, she edited two anthologies: The Black Woman: An Anthology and Tales and Stories for Black Folks.