Edward Dahlberg was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Elizabeth Dahlberg. Together, mother and son led a vagabond existence until 1905 when she operated the Star Lady Barbershop in Kansas City. In April 1912, Dahlberg was sent to the Jewish Orphan Asylum, in Cleveland, Ohio, where he lived until 1917. He eventually attended the University of California, Berkeley (1922–23) and Columbia University (B.S. in philosophy. 1925).
He enlisted in the Army in 1918, in the last few weeks of World War I. In the late 1920s, Dahlberg became part of the expatriate group of American writers living in Paris. His first novel, Bottom Dogs, based on his childhood experiences at the orphanage and his travels in the American West, was published in London with an introduction by D. H. Lawrence. With his advance money, Dahlberg returned to New York City and resided in Greenwich Village. He visited Germany in 1933 and in reaction briefly joined the Communist Party, but left the Party by 1936. From the 1940s onwards, Dahlberg made his living as an author and also taught at various colleges and universities. In 1948, he taught briefly at the experimental Black Mountain College. He was replaced on the staff by his friend and fellow author, Charles Olson.
He was an expatriate writer of the 1920s, a proletarian novelist of the 1930s, a spokesman for a fundamental humanism in the 1940s. For a number of years, Dahlberg devoted himself to literary study. His extensive readings of the works of Dante, Shakespeare, Thoreau and many others resulted in a writing style quite different from the social realism that characterized his earlier writing.
He moved to the Danish island of Bornholm in 1955 while working on The Flea of Sodom. The Sorrows of Priapus was published in 1957, becoming his most successful book thus far. He later moved to Mallorca, while working on Because I Was Flesh, an autobiography which was published in 1964. During the 1960s and 1970s, he became quite prolific and further refined his unique style through the publication of poetry, autobiographical works, fiction and criticism.
He married R'Lene LaFleur Howell in 1950. In 1968, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1976, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Dahlberg died in Santa Barbara, California, on February 27, 1977. Frank McCourt wrote a scathing review of their social relationship on pages 103-7 of his biography, Teacher Man.
- 1929 Bottom Dogs
- 1932 From Flushing to Calvary
- 1934 Those Who Perish
- 1941 Do These Bones Live, essays
- 1947 Sing O Barren, revision of Do These Bones Live
- 1950 Flea of Sodom, essays and parables
- 1957 The Sorrows of Priapus
- 1960 Can These Bones Live, second revision of Do These Bones Live
- 1961 Truth Is More Sacred
- 1964 Because I Was Flesh, autobiography
- 1964 Alms for Oblivion, essays and reminiscences
- 1965 Reasons of the Heart: Maxims
- 1966 Cipango’s Hinder Door, poems
- 1967 The Dahlberg Reader
- 1967 Epitaphs of Our Times, letters
- 1967 The Leafless American, miscellany
- 1968 The Carnal Myth: A Search Into Classical Sensuality
- 1971 The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg, autobiography and fiction
- 1976 The Olive of Minerva: Or, The Comedy of a Cuckold
- 1989 Samuel Beckett's Wake & Other Uncollected Prose
- Oxford Companion to American Literature Hart JD and Leininger PW,(Oxford University Press: 1995)
- "Edward Dahlberg Biography" at Net Industries
- "Edward Dahlberg", Encyclopaedia Judaica
- "Biography on Edward Dahlberg", Dictionary of Literary
- "Edward Dahlberg. 1976, Fiction", John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
- Billings, Harold A Bibliography of Edward Dahlberg (Harry Ransom Humanities; 1971) ISBN 978-0-87959-037-6
- Moramarco, Fred S. Edward Dahlberg (Twayne Publishing. 1972) ISBN 978-0-8057-0180-7
- DeFanti, Charles The Wages of Expectation: A Biography of Edward Dahlberg (New York University Press. 1978) ISBN 978-0-8147-1764-6
- Solomon, William, Literature, Amusement, and Technology in the Great Depression(Cambridge University Press: 2002) ISBN 0-521-81343-3
- Edward Dahlberg Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin
- Guide to the Edward Dahlberg Papers at Stanford University
- University of Tulsa McFarlin Library's inventory of Edward Dahlberg papers
- Edward Dahlberg quotes