Born in Chicago to Dutch immigrant parents, comic novelist, and Poetry editor Peter De Vries earned a BA at Calvin College at the height of the Depression. Following graduation, he worked variously as a toffee-apple salesman, a radio actor, and a vending-machine operator. From 1938 to 1944, he served as the editor of Poetry. While at Poetry, he published his first three novels, But Who Wakes the Bugler? (1940), The Handsome Heart (1943), and Angels Can’t Do Better (1943).
In 1943, with the assistance of James Thurber, De Vries joined the New Yorker as a staff contributor, a position he held until 1987. His comic novels—25 in all—tackle themes of morality and the loss of religious faith through wordplay, wild misunderstandings, and fast-moving plots. His later novels include Tunnel of Love (1954), Into Your Tent I’ll Creep (1971), and Slouching Towards Kalamazoo (1983). The Blood of the Lamb (1961), his darkest and most autobiographical novel, was written in the wake of his young daughter’s death from leukemia.
De Vries died of pneumonia at Norwalk Hospital near his home in Westport, Connecticut, in 1993. Despite the considerable literary success De Vries enjoyed during his lifetime, most of his novels had fallen out of print by the time of his death. In 2005, the University of Chicago Press brought The Blood of the Lamb and Slouching Towards Kalamazoo back into print.