A poet and fiction writer, he is known for works such as A Long Desire and The Connoisseur. He was the 2010 recipient of the Los Angeles Times book Award.
He attended Columbia University and Stanford University. He published his first collection of short stories, The Anatomy Lesson, in 1957.
His work, Son of the Morning Star, was made into an Emmy award-winning television miniseries.
He and his sister, Barbara (to whom he dedicated his 1959 novel, Mrs. Bridge), were born in Kansas City, Missouri. He later settled in New Mexico.
His two novels, Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969), were adapted into a film starring Paul Newman.