Edwin Moultrie Lanham, Jr., author, son of Edwin and Elizabeth (Stephens) Lanham, was born at Weatherford, Texas, on October 11, 1904. He was the grandson of Samuel Willis Tucker Lanham, governor of Texas, and his uncle, Frederick (Fritz) Garland Lanham, was a United States representative from Fort Worth. Lanham grew up in Fort Worth and went to prep school on the East Coast. When he was sixteen he traveled around the world on a freighter, a trip that provided the source for his first novel, Sailors Don't Care (1929). After he returned he lived a year in New Hampshire and then attended Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At the end of his junior year he left school and went to Paris to study painting for four years. He also lived in the south of France. During this time he worked in Paris with Robert McAlmon, who published the early works of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, H. D., Robert Coates, and others. McAlmon published Lanham's Sailors in 1929 under his Contact Editions imprint. The book was published in expurgated form in New York in 1930. The unsigned review in the New York Times Book Review, published in June 1930, said that the book's "moral moments . . . have much work to justify the seemingly willful salacious sections."
Lanham moved to New York at the start of the Great Depression and worked for the New York Post, the City News Service, and the New York Herald Tribune. During this time he published several novels. The Wind Blew West (1935) is a Texas historical novel that chronicles the saga of a family from a town called Rutherford (based on Weatherford), lured to the area by publicity fliers sent out to attract settlers. The book is dedicated to Lanham's grandfathers, who were themselves such settlers. It received mixed reviews: the New York Times stated that without it "the growing body of American fiction on the pioneer scene would have been surely impoverished," but the Fort Worth Star Telegram faulted Lanham for borrowing incidents and characters from towns other than Weatherford and lambasted him for not portraying Texas in an exclusively favorable light. The book was reprinted twice the year it was published.
Banner at Daybreak (1937), a sequel to The Wind Blew West and also autobiographical, tells of a young man who leaves his Texas hometown, becomes an expatriate in Paris, and eventually returns with his wife to settle in New York. This book also received favorable reviews. Lanham departed from his Texas themes with his next book, Another Ophelia (1938), a psychological study of a disturbed family in Vermont whose daughter becomes insane. The New York Times said this book "moves the heart" and is "another milestone for Lanham"; the paper compared it favorably with Stein's Three Lives and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The Stricklands (1939) was the story of an Oklahoma family, and with it Lanham was hailed as a major interpreter of the American scene and the American family. Thunder in the Earth, published in 1941, after he had received a Guggenheim fellowship to write it, was Lanham's sixth novel and the most highly acclaimed. It is the story of a man who strikes oil on another man's land, becomes a millionaire, and loses his fortune. The book was praised for its rendition of the Texas oil camp and the authenticity of the characters and language used. It was compared with the works of Hemingway and James M. Cain. The Texas Institute of Letters, founded in 1936, gave Thunder in the Earth its award for the best book of the year about Texas for 1941–42. After this, Lanham switched to murder mysteries, of which he wrote thirteen. He moved from New York to Clinton, Connecticut, where he spent the rest of his life. He also wrote The Paste-Pot Man (1967), another autobiographical work, and The Clock at 8:16 (1970), a novel about Hiroshima seen from twenty-five years later. He also wrote many short stories for magazines during this time.
Lanham was married to Joan Boyle, the sister of writer Kay Boyle. He met his future wife while he lived in Paris among expatriates. The couple were apparently divorced before September 1935. Lanham married Irene Stillman on June 2, 1940, and they had one daughter, Linda, who was born in 1943. He died at his home in Connecticut on July 24, 1979.