A twentieth-century American fiction writer and critic, he is best known for his novel The Land of Plenty. The work is set at a lumber mill in a fictionalized version of Washington state.
He studied at the University of Washington. He published his first work, Laugh and Lie Down, in 1931.
He worked on the editorial staff of both Time magazine and Fortune.
He grew up in Little Falls, Washington as the son of an engineer. He later married Mary Elizabeth Chambers, with whom he had three daughters.
Author Ernest Hemingway praised Cantwell's literary work.