Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. His merchant seaman father, Donald, left the family when King was two. King’s mother, Nellie Ruth, raised him and his older brother, David, herself. As Nellie Ruth struggled to support two children, the family traveled to live with relatives in other states, including Connecticut and Indiana, before returning to the town of Durham, Maine when King was eleven. King realized he wanted to be a writer when he stumbled upon a book of the works of H.P. Lovecraft in an attic. He began writing stories, and his brother printed some of them in his self-published newspaper, Dave’s Rag. At seventeen, King won a prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Award for his short story “Men of Straw.”
King earned a B.A. in English from the University of Maine at Orono, where he met his future wife, novelist Tabitha King (née Spruce), in the library after attending a writer’s workshop with Professor Burton Hatlen. Both King and Tabitha cite Hatlen as a mentor to their writing careers. King and Tabitha had their first child, a daughter named Naomi, in 1970 and wed in 1971. They eventually had two more children, Joe and Owen. After college, King taught English at a public school in Maine while earning extra money by writing stories for men’s magazines. Around this time, he began writing the short story that would become his debut novel, Carrie, the story of a bullied teenage girl who gets revenge on her classmates using telekinesis. Convinced the story lacked merit, King threw out his first draft. Tabitha recovered it from the trash and encouraged King to revise it, offering to advise him on capturing a teenage girl’s perspective. Doubleday Press published Carrie in 1974 to such popular success that King left teaching and began writing full time.
Since then, King has had a remarkably prolific career, writing more than 60 novels and hundreds of works of short fiction. He has also written essays, poetry, and scripts for film, television, and graphic novels. After Carrie, King wrote Salem’s Lot (1975), followed by The Shining (1977). These early novels cemented King’s reputation as a horror writer and introduced some motifs repeated throughout his work. King would return to themes of coming of age and the struggle of outcasts seen in Carrie in works like It (1986). Salem’s Lot and The Shining were the first of many of King’s novels about writers who struggle to create because of toxic obsessions or addictions, a semi-autobiographical theme. Works like Misery (1987) and the Stoker-award winning Bag of Bones (1998) also explore writing and addiction. Finally, despite the darkness present in all of these novels, King’s endings allow for hope, affirming the good in humanity.
Although popularly known as “The King of Horror,” King’s work also draws from science fiction, fantasy, and crime fiction. His novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, originally published in his short fiction collection Different Seasons (1982), tells of a prisoner at the Shawshank Penitentiary who becomes involved in a money-laundering scheme concocted by one of the guards. His eight-book fantasy series, The Dark Tower (1982–2012), is a mash-up of Tolkienesque fantasy and spaghetti westerns. King has also collaborated with his sons on various works. His elder son, Joe, has become a celebrated writer of speculative fiction in his own right under the pen name Joe Hill. They collaborated on two novellas, Throttle (2009) and In the Tall Grass (2012). King and Owen co-wrote Sleeping Beauties in 1997. In addition to his fiction, King is also celebrated for his advice on the craft of writing. In his 2000 book On Writing, he urges aspiring writers to prioritize making time to read and write—at least four to six hours a day. He believes strongly that authorial talent does not supersede practice and drive.
King has won numerous awards, including multiple Bram Stoker awards for works such as The Green Mile (1996) and Doctor Sleep (2013), a Hugo Award for Danse Macabre (1982), and the 1995 O. Henry Award for his short story, “The Man in the Black Suit.” Film and television adaptations of his work, such as Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining, have gone on to become classics in their own right. Nevertheless, the literary community often debates the merit of King’s work. The National Book Awards in 2003 recognized King for his lifetime contribution to American letters, which scandalized some in the literary community. While these critics believed King’s work doesn’t qualify as serious literature, others credit King’s work for opening the door for popular fiction to deal with serious, realistic subjects while still containing the exciting elements of speculative fiction. Regardless of this debate, King’s work has left an undeniable stamp on pop culture.
“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
“There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.”
“Time takes it all whether you want it to or not, time takes it all. Time bares it away, and in the end there is only darkness. Sometimes we find others in that darkness, and sometimes we lose them there again.”