He lived most of his life in New Haven, Connecticut. Yet his years at Pratt in Brooklyn, daily commuting to the city and frequent visits to jazz clubs impacted the New York settings of his books.
His first works were short stories published in the American Writing Todayseries volumes I, II and III. These include "When Ben Awakened" , "I Held Back My Hand", "The Man Who Made a Nice Appearance". His novels included The Human Season (1960) and The Pawnbroker (1961), which was adapted into an award-winning film starring Rod Steiger.
Two of his novels were published posthumously: The Tenants of Moonbloom (1963) and The Children at the Gate (1964)
Wallant began to write professionally at age twenty nine. He had served in the Second World War as a gunner's mate. He attended the University of Connecticut and graduated from Pratt Institute and studied writing at The New School in New York. While he worked as an advertising art director at McCanErikson working on, Bulova, Chock Full of Nuts Coffee and Oreo cookies in the city by day, Wallant wrote at night. Encouraged by his time at the Breadloaf writers conference, he won a Guggenheim Award in 1962.
Wallant has been compared to other Jewish American writers such as Saul Bellow and Phillip Roth.
Wallant died of an aneurysm at the age of 36. He was survived by his wife Joyce, who died in 1991, and by his son Scott, daughters Leslie and Kim, grandchildren Nina, Steve, Nora, Eddie, Jon, Esme and Ruthie.
Shortly after Wallant's death in 1962, the Edward Lewis Wallant Award was established at the University of Hartford. It is presented annually to an American writer whose fiction is considered to have significance for American Jews. The first awardee was Norman Fruchter.