Richards was born in Washington, D.C. in 1940. In 1943, his mother married the sculptor Harvey Fite, who created Opus 40 from 1939 to 1976. He attended Bard College (where Fite was on the faculty) before earning a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. At Iowa, he studied with Paul Engle, Donald Justice and Philip Roth. He has taught literature, composition and creative writing at several institutions, including Winona State University, the State University of New York at New Paltz and Marist College.
Richards began publishing in 1964, with three poems in Poetry Magazine. During the 1960s, he was a regular contributor to The Realist, Paul Krassner's satirical magazine. His first novel, Cherokee Bill (a collaboration with his brother Jonathan Richards), was published by Dell Books in 1974. Since then, he has published 18 novels, including a novelization of the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles (1974). His most recent novel is Nick and Jake (Arcade Publishing). Nick and Jake has also been produced as an audio play starring Alan Arkin, Tom Conti and Ali MacGraw. His screenwriting credits include The Cheerleaders (1973), a sexploitation film characteristic of the era.
Richards has written 16 works of nonfiction. Struggle and Lose, Struggle and Win: The Story of the United Mine Workers (written with Elizabeth Levy) was listed by The New York Times as one of the best young adult books of 1977. Several of his books on finance with Neale Godfrey have been bestsellers. He has also written extensively on music and poetry; additionally, several of his songs have been recorded by Orleans, the John Hall Band, and Fred Koller.
- Wallis, David (June 2, 2006). "A Monumental Vision of Half a Lifetime". The New York Times.
- "Table of Contents". Poetry. February 1964.
- "Son of TV's Finest Hour". The Realist. April 1965. Retrieved 27 July 2016. Richards' first contribution to The Realist
- "Nick and Jake An Epistolary Novel". Arcade Publishing.
- "STRUGGLE & LOSE; STRUGGLE & WIN: The United Mine Workers Union". Kirkus Reviews.
- Rhythm and Blues, from The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
- New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, in The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
- Jazz, from the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
- review of Rachel Loden's Dick of the Dead in Jacket (magazine) 38.
- Selling Secrets in The Cortland Review issue 17.