An American fiction writer associated with the Beat Generation, he published twelve novels over the course of his career. His best-known works include Birth of a Hero, He/She, and Bohemia.
He moved to New York City at age seventeen and began attending Columbia University, where fellow Beat writer Jack Kerouac was also a student.
After studying in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship and hitchhiking all over the United States, he settled in San Francisco.
He was born to a Russian Jewish family in Cleveland, Ohio. With his wife, Melissa Dilworth, he had three children.
He temporarily replaced Vladimir Nabokov as an English professor at Cornell University.