An American writer, editor, and painter, he is known for such literary works as The Eagle on the Coin, Dormitory Women, and The Left Bank of Desire. An acclaimed author, he was the recipient of a Rockefeller Grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an O. Henry Award.
He graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in art and subsequently served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He later taught at the University of Washington in Seattle and at Columbia University, among other schools.
He received the Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995.
He and his two siblings grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. With his wife, Karilyn Kay Adams, he had three children.
He was an instructor at the renowned Iowa Writers' Workshop; Raymond Carver was one of his famous pupils.