He was born on August 1, 1888 in Sacramento, California.
He started out at the Sacramento Bee in 1906. From 1912-1928, he wrote for The New York Times and from 1928-1932 for the New York Herald Tribune. From 1932 until his retirement, he wrote articles for The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker magazines. He won the Pulitzer in 1923 for articles he wrote during a convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1922.
- The Great Goldwyn (1937)
- The Case of Erle Stanley Gardner (1947)
- The Legendary Mizners (1953)
- Associated Press (November 24, 1950). "Death Claims Alva Johnston". St. Joseph News-Press. Retrieved 2012-10-22. "Alva Johnston, 62, magazine writer, author, and winner of the Pulitzer prize as a newspaper reporter, died last night at Bronxville hospital. Johnston, a resident of Yonkers, won the Pulitzer In 1922 for his coverage of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in the New York Times. ..."
- Erin Overbey (March 4, 2010). "Eighty-Five from the Archive: Alva Johnston". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
- "The Press: The Best Reporter". Time magazine. May 28, 1923. Retrieved April 21, 2011.