An American novelist, he is best known for works such as The Tie That Binds and Where You Once Belonged. In 2006, he received the Dos Passos Prize for Literature.
He worked on a chicken farm and at a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado, and he also found employment at a construction site in Wyoming. In 1984, he published his first novel, The Tie That Binds.
His 1999 bestselling work, Plainsong, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
He was born in Colorado, and he attended Nebraska Wesleyan University and, later, the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He and his wife, Kathy, became parents to three daughters.
He and Ethan Canin both studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.