As an American fiction writer, he is known for First Love and Other Sorrows; Stories in an Almost Classical Mode; The World is the Home of Love and Death, and The Runaway Soul. His non-fiction works include My Venice and Sea Battles on Dry Land.
Following his 1952 graduation from Harvard University, he wrote stories for the New Yorker and other prominent magazines.
He wrote television pilot scripts for NBC and also taught at Cornell University.
He married fellow author Ellen Brodkey. He died of AIDS in 1996; his memoir, This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death, details his battle with the disease.
Harold Bloom once said that if he could ever solve Brodkey's publishing difficulties, Brodkey would be remembered as one of the greatest American writers.