An American composer, translator, and author, he is best known for his 1949 novel, The Sheltering Sky, which is set in North Africa and explores the themes of alienation and existential despair. He also composed and recorded Moroccan music and music for the theater and published numerous short story collections and poetry volumes.
He attended the University of Virginia and later studied music with composer Aaron Copland.
He lived in Tangier for the last fifty-two years of his life.
He was the son of a New York City dentist. He married playwright Jane Auer in 1938.
Gore Vidal called Bowles' short stories some of the best works of short fiction ever written by an American.