An American fiction writer, he is particularly known for his trilogy of novels focusing on Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution. One of the novels in the trilogy, All Souls' Rising, was a finalist for both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award.
He taught for several creative writing programs, including the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y, and the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminar.
He won both the Ward Mathis Prize and the Francis Leymoyne Page Award.
He married Elizabeth Spires; together, they had one daughter.
He and Frank Stella both studied at Princeton.