An American novelist and biographer, he is known for works such as Bottom Dogs and From Flushing to Calvary. He was part of a 20th-century group of expatriate American writers who settled in Paris.
He graduated from both the University of California-Berkeley and Columbia University. He served in the army at the end of World War I.
He moved to the Danish island of Bornholm in 1955.
He was born in Massachusetts to Elizabeth Dahlberg. He spent part of his childhood in his mother's care and part of it in an orphanage. In 1950, he married R'Lene LaFleur Howell.
He and Caroline Gordon both received Guggenheim Fellowships.