Bourjaily was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Monte Ferris Bourjaily, a Lebanese immigrant who was a journalist and later became editor of the United Features Syndicate, and Barbara Webb, an American-born features author and novelist. Bourjaily moved several times during his youth. His childhood was spent in Connecticut, Virginia, and New York. Bourjaily graduated from Handley High School in Winchester, Virginia in 1939. After graduating, Bourjaily enrolled in Bowdoin College. With the coming of World War II, Bourjaily became a volunteer ambulance driver from 1942 to 1944. He then served two years in the army from 1944 to 1946. Bourjaily's time in the army was a central theme to many of his later writings. His Arab American themes are explored by literary critic Evelyn Shakir 
Bourjaily married Bettina Yensen in 1946. The couple had two children and later divorced. Bourjaily re-married in 1985, to Yasmin Mogul (a former student) and had a son by her. He died in Greenbrae, California on August 31, 2010.
Bourjaily began his work with his first novel entitled The End of My Life. The book was heavily influenced by Bourjaily's wartime experiences. Critics said that the novel borrowed heavily from the style and tone of Ernest Hemingway. However, the novel was met with praise and was hailed by critic John Aldridge as a war novel on the level of Hemingway's Farewell to Arms.
Bourjaily's second novel, The Hound of Earth, paints a picture of Cold War America through the eyes of a scientist who helped develop the atomic bomb. His third novel, The Violated, dealt with the themes of violence and alienation. This book was also met with critical praise.
Brill Among the Ruins is Bourjaily's most critically acclaimed novel. The novel was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and was praised in the New York Times Book Review.
Bourjaily spent much of his career in academia. From 1957 to 1980, he worked as a creative writing instructor and a professor at the University of Iowa. Bourjaily also worked at several other academic institutions such as Oregon State University, the University of Arizona, and Louisiana State University.
- Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC
- The End of My Life (1947)
- The Hound of Earth (1955)
- The Violated (1958)
- Confessions of a Spent Youth (1960)
- The Unnatural Enemy: Essays on Hunting (1963)
- The Man Who Knew Kennedy (1967)
- Brill among the Ruins (1970)
- Country Matters: Collected Reports from the Fields and Streams of Iowa and Other Places (essays) (1973)
- Now Playing at Canterbury (1976)
- A Game Men Play (1980)
- The Great Fake Book (1986)
- Old Soldier: A Novel (1990)
- Obituary New York Times, September 3, 2010, page B9.
- Obituary Washington Post, September 4, 2010.
- Bruce Weber, Vance Bourjaily, Novelist Exploring Postwar America, Dies at 87 from The New York Times, September 3, 2010.
- Pretending to Be Arab: Role-Playing in Vance Bourjaily's "The Fractional Man" Evelyn Shakir, MELUS (Multi Ethnic Literature of the United States), Vol. 9, No. 1, Varieties of Ethnic Criticism (Spring, 1982), pp. 7-21
- Vance Bourjaily at the Internet Movie Database
- Papers by Vance Bourjaily at the Bowdoin College website.
- Abstract on the novels of Vance Bourjaily at Commentary Magazine
- Vance Bourjaily at the Biography Reference Bank
- Vance Bourjaily Biography at Brief Biographies