Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine, his home state for the majority of his life. King’s father, Donald, abandoned his family when King was only two, and King never saw or heard from him again. His mother, Nellie, was left with the burden of raising him and his adopted brother, David. In his early years, King occasionally went to live with relatives on both sides of his family. The family moved around, living in a succession of small towns before finally settling in the Maine community of Durham when King was eleven. When King was a teenager, he found a box of his father’s old horror and science-fiction magazines, a discovery that would change his life. He began writing his own tales of horror while still a high school student at Lisbon High School in the mid-1960s and even attempted to write a few novels. After graduating, King accepted a scholarship to the University of Maine, Orono.
War protests and the politically charged atmosphere of the late 1960s transformed King from a conservative into a student radical who led marches to express dissent about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Shortly after graduation in 1970, King married another aspiring novelist, Tabitha Spruce, and worked as a high school English teacher during the day and at an industrial laundry at night to make ends meet. The couple had a daughter, Naomi, in 1971 and two more children in the following years. Despite his demanding work and family life, King never abandoned his love for writing and eventually published his first novel, Carrie, in 1974. The novel and subsequent 1976 movie raked in enormous profits and catapulted King to instant fame and fortune.
King’s second novel, The Shining (1977), made the bestseller lists, as has every novel he’s written since, making him one of the most popular writers in the world. In the 1980s, he was the author of seven of the decade’s top twenty-five bestsellers, and his works have been translated into nearly every major language. A prolific author, King has produced an average of a book per year for nearly three decades. In addition to his novels and short fiction, King has also written numerous essays, writing guides, and screenplays. Because of his association with horror and the occult, however, King is often overlooked as a serious novelist, even though he’s won critical acclaim for a number of his more literary works. In 1996, for example, his short story “The Man in the Black Suit,” which first appeared in the New Yorker, won the O. Henry Award for best short story of the year. He also received a National Book Award medal in 2003 for his distinguished contribution to American letters.
Although King’s genre and artistic preoccupations have remained fairly consistent over the years, he’s refined his writing style and modes of inquiry, allowing him to write tighter novels and more serious short fiction. Although works such as The Stand (1978) still reflect King’s epic sweep with their apocalyptic themes and sprawling cast of characters, his more recent works focus on the interpersonal relationships and the often extreme behaviors that mark the relations between men and women. All of King’s work, however, shares certain consistent qualities and hallmarks, such as strong evocation of setting, atmosphere, and character.
“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is the opening story in the collection Different Seasons (1982) and embodies classic King themes of fear, confusion, and loss of control, albeit transformed and shifted to the fractured domesticity of a high-security prison. The chills and breathless horror commonplace in much of King’s other writings have been replaced by the psychological torture of living in a confined space for an indeterminate amount of time. The story was eventually made into a popular film released in 1994 under the title The Shawshank Redemption.
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