She started her career in New York working in the publicity department of Vintage Books, working for a number of New York publishers. From 1998-2008, she edited The Asian Pacific American Journal, before joining Conde Nast Traveler in 2005. Her «Word of Mouth» section was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2007. She became an editor at Conde Nast before leaving in 2015 to become a deputy editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
Yanagihara has edited several books, and served as a New York Foundation for the Arts Literary Fellow in both 2001 and 2008. She currently lives in New York.