Following high school, Maillet received her BA from the Collège Notre-Dame d'Acadie in 1950, followed by an MA from the Université de Moncton in 1959. She then received her PhD in literature in 1971 from the Université Laval. Her thesis is entitled Rabelais et les traditions populaires en Acadie.
Maillet taught literature and folklore at the college Notre-Dame d'Acadie (1954-1960); at the University of Moncton (1965-1967); at the Collège des Jésuites de Québec (1968-1969); at the University of Laval (1971-1974); then at the University of Montreal between (1974-1975). She later worked for Radio-Canada in Moncton as a scriptwriter and host. In 1988 Maillet hosted the French-language Leaders' Debate for Radio-Canada TV between Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Liberal Party of Canada Leader John Turner, and New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent. From 1989 to 2000, she served as chancellor of the Université de Moncton.
In 1976 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 1981. Maillet was awarded the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal in 1980. In 1985 she was made an Officier des Arts et des Lettres de France and in 2005 she was inducted into the Order of New Brunswick. She is a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada since 1 July 1992. This gives her the right to the honorific prefix "The Honourable" and the Post Nominal Letters "PC" for Life. In 1979 her work Pélagie-la-Charrette won the Prix Goncourt, making her the first non-European recipient. In 1994, the College Militaire Royal theatre group performed in a play by Maillet both at CMR and at Royal Military College of Canada. Maillet was granted an Honorary Degree from RMC in 1995.
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