An Arkansas-born author, he is best known for novels such as Norwood and True Grit. The latter work, which was adapted into a popular film, focuses on a young girl's quest for retribution following her father's murder.
He was a sergeant in the US Marine Corps during the Korean War. He later received a degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
He worked for the New York Herald Tribune for several years.
He was the son of Samuel Palmer and Alice Waddell Portis.
His novel, True Grit, was made into a feature film starring Jeff Bridges.