Theodore Langhans Taylor was born June 23, 1921, in Statesville, North Carolina, the fifth child of Edward Riley Taylor, an Irish-American ironworker, and Elnora Langhans Taylor, a German- American with a strong creative drive and interest in drama. In 1934 the family moved to Virginia, where his father worked in the shipyards. Taylor, thirteen, began covering high school sports for a local newspaper, the Portsmouth Evening Star and developing his interest in naval history. At age seventeen he became a copyboy for the Washington Daily News, and two years later began writing sports copy for NBC Radio. Taylor attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and served in the merchant marine from 1945 to 1946 before returning to journalism. Between 1946 and 1950 he wrote for the Bluefield News and the Orlando Sentinel and held public relations positions with New York University and the YMCA. During this time period he also studied at Columbia University and with the American Theatre Wing.
Although Navy service during the Korean War (1950-55) limited the time he could spend writing, Taylor published his first book, The Magnificent Mitscher (1954), a biography for adults. His other nonfiction books for adults include Fire on the Beaches (1957), The Body Trade (1968), Special Unit Senator: An Investigation of the Assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1970), The Amazing World of Kreskin (1973), and Jule: The Story of Composer Jule Styne (1979). Taylor's short fiction has been published in Redbook, McCalls, Argosy, and the Saturday Evening Post. He has also written teleplays, screenplays, and three adult novels, Sweet Friday Island (1984), Rocket Island (1985), and The Stalker (1987).
During much of his career, Taylor also worked in the motion picture industry, as a publicist, story editor, associate producer, free-lance press agent, and producer/director of documentary films. His travels provided background for his books, and his stated goal each year was "one book for young readers, one for adults and a movie project of some type." In 1977 Taylor received the Western Writers of America Spur Award.
His best known work, The Cay, initially received favorable reviews. It appeared on numerous lists of best young adult books of 1969, was named an American Library Association Notable Book, and received the Silver Seal of the Commonwealth Club of California, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, The Woodward School Award, and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award. When later criticism of the book as "racist" led the head of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award Committee to label the prize selection "a mistake," Taylor immediately returned his award to the Jane Addams Peace and Freedom Association. He has since explained that he intended to fight racism with his book.
Taylor has lived in California since 1955 and currently makes his home in Laguna Beach. His manuscripts belong to the University of Minnesota's Kerlan Collection in Minneapolis.