A British-born novelist, he is best known for works such as Goodbye to Berlin (1939), Journey to a War (1939), and A Single Man (1964). His 1945 work, The Berlin Stories, inspired the popular Broadway musical, Cabaret.
He studied briefly at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He subsequently lived with violinist Andre Mangeot and worked as a secretary to Mangeot's string quartet.
He collaborated with W. H. Auden, his mentor and occasional lover, on several literary works.
During the 1930s, he had a five-year relationship with Heinz Neddermeyer. In 1953, he began a more than thirty-year partnership with Don Bachardy.
He was a friend of Truman Capote.