An American writer of both fiction and nonfiction, he is particularly known for his National Book Award-winning novel, So Long, See You Tomorrow, which was published in 1980. His other works include The Folded Leaf, The Chateau, and a short story collection entitled Over by the River.
He studied at the University of Illinois and then earned a master's degree from Harvard University. He later worked as an editor of The New Yorker.
His 1946 children's book, The Heavenly Tenants, was a finalist for the Newbery Medal.
When he was ten years old, he watched his mother die as a result of the 1918 flu epidemic. His more than fifty-year marriage to painter Emily Gilman Noyes produced two daughters.
During his time at The New Yorker, Maxwell worked with Vladimir Nabokov.