Taken from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Chatwin, (Charles) Bruce (1940–1989), traveller and writer, was born on 13 May 1940 in Sheffield, the elder child (his brother was born four years later) of Charles Leslie Chatwin, a Birmingham solicitor, and his wife, Margharita Turnell. He was educated at Marlborough College, where he was dreamily interested in classics and enthusiastic about acting; in his spare time he collected and restored odd pieces of furniture. In 1958 he joined the auction house Sothebys as a porter; he rose rapidly to become head of the department of antiquities and the newly founded and flourishing department of impressionist painting. He was made a director of the firm in his twenties but left in 1966, variously citing failing eyesight and disillusion with the art business, to go to Edinburgh University.

At Edinburgh, Chatwin studied archaeology with Professor Stuart Piggott; he left after two years, without taking his degree, and went to Mauretania, from which he returned with a sheaf of desert photographs and many more notes on nomads, which were subsequently extended by journeys to Iran and Afghanistan. While visiting Sudan he had developed a fascination with nomads which was to last all his life: he identified with, and to some extent adopted, a travelling way of life, revered its disdain for possessions, and theorized in published and unpublished work about the importance of walking and the pernicious effects of settlement. In 1970 he helped to organize an exhibition entitled ‘Animal style art’ at the Asia House Gallery in New York. In the early 1970s he worked for the Sunday Times Magazine, first as an art consultant, and then as a journalist: his pieces included interviews with André Malraux, Indira Gandhi, and the dress designer Madeleine Vionnet, who had invented the bias cut which helped to abolish the corset. He is said to have left the paper with a characteristic flourish, sending a telegram which explained: ‘Gone to Patagonia for six months.’

This trip resulted in Chatwin's first published book, In Patagonia (1977), an imaginative investigation of that region of Argentina, which mixed crisp description with anthropology, biography, and history, relishing strange encounters and esoteric facts, and rendering these in a spare elliptical prose. In Patagonia was awarded the 1977 Hawthornden prize and the E. M. Forster award. Chatwin earned and retained a name as a redefiner of travel writing, though the books that followed were strikingly varied in subject matter and style. The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980), luxuriant, highly wrought, and exotic, provided a fictionalized account of the life of a Brazilian slave trader. The book was in part based on Chatwin's researches in Dahomey, where he had been arrested during a coup d'état on suspicion of being a mercenary; Werner Herzog filmed the story as Cobra verde (1988). On the Black Hill (1982)—written, Chatwin claimed, in order to put paid to the label ‘travel writer’, from which he recoiled—described in dense domestic detail the intertwined lives of a pair of Welsh twins who never moved from their farm in the border country; the book, which won the 1982 Whitbread award for the best first novel and the James Tait Black memorial prize, was made into a film directed by Andrew Grieve (1987). Five years later Chatwin produced The Songlines (1987), a capacious exploration of Aboriginal creation myths which incorporated some of his early speculations about nomads. Utz (1988), a coolly written study of an obsessional collector of Meissen porcelain, drew on his experience of the art world and his interest in the Soviet Eastern bloc; it was short-listed for the 1988 Booker prize and filmed by George Sluizer. His collection of articles, What Am I Doing Here?, appeared in 1989, a few months after his death; a selection of his photographs and notebooks, edited by David King and Francis Wyndham, was published in 1993.

Chatwin was an animated talker, physically and mentally restless, prominently blue-eyed, and hugely enthusiastic. He was a vivid presence, in print and in person: he drew people to him during his lifetime and became the subject of myth-making after his death; he had both male and female lovers. In 1965 he married Elizabeth Margaret, the daughter of Gertrude Laughlin and Hubert Chanler, an American naval officer; there were no children. His wife, a shepherd and trekker, was one of his most stalwart travelling companions. They lived in Gloucestershire and later in the Chilterns; Chatwin, who liked to work away from home, also had a series of London rooms, which were uniformly small, bare, and white. In September 1986 he was diagnosed as having the AIDS virus; he died in Nice, France, on 18 January 1989, of a fungal infection, and his ashes were taken to Greece.

Susannah Clapp, ‘Chatwin, (Charles) Bruce (1940–1989)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/39826, accessed 7 Oct 2007]