A twentieth-century American author and anthropologist, he is particularly known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Laughing Boy. His other works include The Copper Pot; The Eagle in the Egg; Raw Material; and Sparks Fly Upward.
He studied at Harvard University, where he was a member of the rowing team.
He spent much of his life advocating for Native American rights.
He was a descendant of founders of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies. With his first wife, Wanden Matthews, he had two children.
He and playwright Sam Shepard were both recipients of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.