Browner is the oldest of three daughters born to Michael Browner and Isabella Harty-Hugues, both academicians whose respect for education undoubtedly had a strong influence on their three daughters. The Browners limited their daughters' television viewing time and encouraged them, instead, to read and pursue their interests. Browner was born and raised in Florida and her love of the state's natural beauty certainly played into her strong environmentalist attitudes. Her sister, Michelle, the middle Browner daughter, is a biochemist at the University of California at San Francisco. The third and youngest of the Browner sisters, Stephanie, is completing her doctoral studies at the University of Indiana in American literature.