An African-American songwriter, fiction writer, and playwright, he is known for his 1941 novel, Blood on the Forge, and for his 1957 work, Calypso Song Book. His early works include Carnival and Let Me Breathe Thunder.
He was a tennis champion at the University of Illinois. After graduating from college, he settled in New York.
He spent his last years working in Los Angeles as a screenwriter.
He and his Caucasian wife, Frances, were married in 1962. To escape American racial prejudice, they settled in Barbados with their two children.
As a young man, Attaway read a poem by Langston Hughes and was inspired to become a writer.