O’Donnell published literary criticisms, reviews, short stories, and poetry in publications such as the New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, and A Southern Vanguard.
O’Donnell was born January 21 in Midnight, Mississippi, in 1914 on the Silver Home Plantation. He attended Belzoni High School and graduated in 1932. He spent two years at Memphis State College (1932-34) and before transferring to Vanderbilt University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree (1936) and Master of Arts in 1939.
He taught for a year at Vanderbilt in 1939 as a fellow in creative writing; then went to Alabama Polytechnic University for four years. He was a guest instructor at Harvard from 1945 to 1947. He also taught at Louisiana State University and Oglethorpe University. He retired from Oglethorpe in 1959 and moved to New Haven, Connecticut.
O’Donnell died in 1962 in Connecticut at the age of 47. His papers are in the Vanderbilt University Special Collections.