She studied at the Mariinskaya Gymnasium in 1894–1903, traveled through Europe, then studied at the Geneva Conservatory, although a lack of financial means made her return to Taganrog in 1904.
She earned the moniker of "Russia"s Sappho" after a relationship with fellow Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. She entered Saint St. Petersburg Conservatory in late 1904, but abandoned her studies and left again for Geneva where she had her first experience as a playwright with the play The Dream. In June 1906, she returned to Taganrog.
At the beginning of World War I, she met the young poet Marina Tsvetaeva, with whom she became involved in a love affair that left important imprints on the poetry of both women.
The lyrics in Parnok"s Poems presented the first, non-decadent, lesbian-desiring subject ever to be heard in a book of Russian poetry. Parnok’s belated first book of verse, Poems, appeared shortly before she and Tsvetaeva broke up in 1916.
In Tsvetaeva"s "Girlfriend" poems Tsvetaeva assumes the male lover"s role in the relationship with Parnok. Parnok left Moscow in late summer 1917 and spent the Russian Civil War years in the Crimean town of Sudak.
There she wrote one of her masterpieces, the dramatic poem and libretto for Alexander Spendiarov"s 4-act opera Almast, which was a big hit in Bolshoi Theater in Moscow in 1930, in Odessa, Tbilissi, Tashkent, Yerevan and in Paris (1952).
Parnok is the author of the collections of poems Roses of Pieria (1922), The Vine (1923), Music (1926) and Half-voiced (1928). Soviet censorship soon decided that Parnok’s poetic voice was "unlawful," and she was unable to publish after 1928. She made her living translating poems by Charles Baudelaire, novels by Romain Rolland, Marcel Proust, Henri Barbusse and others
Parnok died of a heart attack in a village near Moscow on 26 August 1933.
By the end of the 1930s, the Soviet Writer Publishing House issued a collection of her poems. A memorial plaque dedicated to Parnok family was placed on the wall of her birth house in Taganrog in 2012.
Poems by Parnok were set on music and performed as songs by Elena Frolova.