S(usan) E(loise) Hinton (1950-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1950, in Tulsa, OK; Education: University of Tulsa, B.S., 1970.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Viking, Penguin Putnam, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
Writer. Actor in film adaptations of her novels, including (Mrs. Barnes) Tex, 1982; (hooker on strip), Rumble Fish, 1983; and (nurse) The Outsiders, 1983.
New York Herald Tribune Best Teenage Books citation, 1967, Chicago Tribune Book World Spring Book Festival Honor book, 1967, Media & Methods Maxi Award, American Library Association (ALA) Best Young Adult Books citation, both 1975, and Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 1979, all for The Outsiders; ALA Best Books for Young Adults citation, and Chicago Tribune Book World Spring Book Festival Award Honor Book, both 1971, and Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 1978, all for That Was Then, This Is Now; ALA Best Books for Young Adults citation, and School Library Journal Best Books of the Year citation, both 1975, and Land of Enchantment Book Award, New Mexico Library Association, 1982, all for Rumble Fish; ALA Best Books for Young Adults citation, and School Library Journal Best Books of the Year citation, both 1979, New York Public Library Books for the Teen-Age citation, 1980, American Book Award nomination for children's paperback, 1981, Sue Hefly Award Honor Book, Louisiana Association of School Libraries, and California Young Reader Medal nomination, California Reading Association, both 1982, and Sue Hefly Award, 1983, all for Tex; Golden Archer Award, 1983; ALA Young Adult Services Division/ School Library Journal Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1988, for body of work.
The Outsiders, Viking (New York, NY), 1967.
That Was Then, This Is Now, illustrated by Hal Siegel, Viking (New York, NY), 1971, reprinted, Puffin (New York, NY), 1998.
Rumble Fish (also see below), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1975.
Tex, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1979.
Taming the Star Runner, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.
Big David, Little David, illustrated by Alan Daniel, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
The Puppy Sister, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.
Hawkes Harbor, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Francis Ford Coppola) Rumble Fish (screenplay; adapted from her novel), Universal, 1983.
Film adaptations of Hinton's novels include Tex, starring Matt Dillon, Walt Disney Productions, 1982; The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring C. Thomas Howell and Matt Dillon, Warner Bros., 1983; Rumble Fish, 1983; and That Was Then, This Is Now, starring Emilio Estevez and Craig Sheffer, Paramount, 1985. The Outsiders was adapted as a television series by Fox-TV, 1990. Current Affairs and Mark Twain Media adapted The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now as filmstrips with cassettes, both 1978. Rumble Fish was adapted as a record and cassette, Viking, 1977; Hawkes Harbour was adapted as an audiobook, Brilliance Audio, 2004.
In 1967 The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton's novel about teen gangs and the troubled process of fitting in, changed the face of publishing and created the genre of gritty young-adult "problem" fiction. Perhaps ironically, this quiet revolution in book writing and publishing was wrought by a seventeen-year-old girl, who by all rights should have been one of the intended readers of the novel, not its author. Hinton's impact on young-adult literature was confirmed by her receipt of the 1988 Margaret A. Edwards Award for career achievement. Although she has produce only a handful of books, sales of The Outsiders number in the millions and four of her five YA titles have been filmed.
Hinton was born in 1948, in Tulsa, Oklahoma and grew up a voluntary tomboy in love with horses. A self-confessed outsider as a youngster, she did not belong to any one clique in school, but was friends with a wide variety of students. Along with horses Hinton also developed an early love of reading. "I started reading about the same time everyone else did," she once wrote in the Fourth Book of Junior Authors, "and began to write a short time later. The major influence on my writing has been my reading. I read everything, including Comet cans and coffee labels."
Hinton's first writing efforts focused on horses, and her stories were generally told from a boy's point of view. By the time she reached high school, she was ready to tackle a larger subject, namely the rivalry between two groups in her high school, the "greasers" and the affluent "socs" (pronounced "soshes" for Socials).
"I felt the greasers were getting knocked when they didn't deserve it," Hinton told an interviewer for Seventeen shortly after publication of her novel. "The custom for instance, of driving by a shabby boy and screaming 'Greaser!' at him always made me boil. But it was the cold-blooded beating of a friend of mine that gave me the idea of writing a book."
Beginning The Outsiders as a way of coping with her father's illness, Hinton worked through four drafts of her story before she was happy with it. While she had not considered publication, the mother of one of her school friends read the manuscript and immediately saw commercial possibilities for the book. The woman, a writer herself, urged Hinton to get in touch with her own New York agent. Because The Outsiders is narrated from a male perspective, Hinton's publisher, Viking, suggested that she adopt the genderless author name S. E. Hinton.
The Outsiders follows a few days in the lives of a small group of Tulsa teenagers, and begins and ends with the same lines: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home." The book purports to be a composition the narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, is writing for English class. Trailed home from the movie by a group of Socs, Ponyboy is jumped by the rival gang and saved by his older brothers, Darry and Sodapop, and his gang, the greasers. Other characters include tough guy Dallas Winston and switchblade-packing Two-Bit Matthews.
A late-night rendezvous with Soc girls Cherry and Marcia leads to another gang confrontation, and ultimately Ponyboy and Johnny run away, but not before Johnny kills Sheldon in another gang showdown. Eventually deciding to face their fate, the boys return, but an act of heroism lands Johnny in the hospital in critical condition. Johnny's death pushes the edgy Dallas over the line, and he is killed by police during a grocery-store robbery; Ponyboy, meanwhile, is prepared to take the murder rap for Johnny, but ultimately he is acquitted and begins to come to terms with events.
Critical reception to The Outsiders was mostly laudatory; those with reservations noted that the novel errs on the side of over-sentimentality and clichéed writing. Writing in Horn Book, Jane Manthorne called Hinton's work "remarkable," and "a moving, credible view of the outsiders from inside." Reviewing the book in Atlantic Monthly, Nat Hentoff lamented the sometimes "factitious" plot, but declared that Hinton, "with an astute ear and a lively sense of the restless rhythms of the young, also explores the tenacious loyalties on both sides of the class divide." Hentoff surmised that the book was popular among teen readers "because it stimulates their own feelings and questionings about class and differing life-styles." Regardless of the opinion of adult reviewers, a Times Literary Supplement contributor concluded, "Young readers will waive literary discrimination about a book of this kind and adopt Ponyboy as a kind of folk hero for both his exploits and his dialogue."
Royalties from The Outsiders helped to finance Hinton's education at the University of Tulsa where she studied education and where she met her future husband, David Inhofe. However, for several years she suffered from writer's block. As she recalled in an interview with Linda Plemons for the University of Tulsa Annual, after her first novel was published "I couldn't write. I taught myself to type in the sixth grade, and I couldn't even type or use my typewriter to write a letter. Things were pretty bad because I also went to college and started reading good writers and I thought, 'Oh, no.' I read The Outsiders again when I was 20, and I thought it was the worst piece of trash I'd ever seen." Finally, with encouragement from Inhofe, Hinton started a second novel. Producing two pages a day, Hinton had, after a few months, a rough draft of That Was Then, This Is Now.
In her second novel Hinton sets her action in the same Tulsa-like surroundings and focuses on an orphan, Mark, who has lived with the narrator, Bryon, and Bryon's mother since his own parents killed each other in a fight. The days of hippies are at hand, and drugs are now a major part of the teen landscape. One of the characters, M&M, is a proto-hippy whose LSD overdose tips the balances between Bryon and Mark. No angel himself, Bryon turns in his foster brother for supplying M&M with drugs. There is gang violence aplenty, teens on the prowl and on their own—Ponyboy Curtis even makes an appearance.
Overall That Was Then, This Is Now "lacks something" in the way of inspiration, according to Jay Daly in Presenting S. E. Hinton. Other reviewers found the author's second novel an effective portrait of yet another teenager in pain. For Michael Cart, writing in the New York Times Books Review, Hinton creates "a mature, disciplined novel, which excites a response in the reader. Whatever its faults, her book will be hard to forget." In School Library Journal, Brooke Anson remarked called the novel an "excellent, insightful mustering of the pressures on some teen-agers today," while Horn Book contributor Sheryl B. Andrews called it "disturbing" and "sometimes ugly." Nonetheless, Andrews added, That Was Then, This Is Now "will speak directly to a large number of teen-agers and does have a place in the understanding of today's cultural problems."
In Hinton's third novel, Rumble Fish, narrator Rusty-James is another classic sensitive outsider type who begins his narrative with the blunt declaration: "I was hanging out at Benny's, playing pool, when I heard Biff Wilcox was looking to kill me." Like Hinton's other novels, Rumble Fish takes place in compressed time, focusing on incidents that change the life of the narrator forever. Dubbed Hinton's "most ambitious" novel by Geoff Fox and George Walsh writing in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers, the book follows Rusty-James's attempts to make some meaning of life while feeling overshadowed by the gang conflicts that had made his older brother, the volatile Motorcycle Boy, a hero in the eyes of his peers. Now, however, Motorcycle Boy feels out of place, without hope, and he meets an ignoble end when he is gunned down while breaking into a pet store. By novel's end Rusty-James is on his own and directionless, having lost his brother, his reputation, and his girl.
As Jane Abramson noted in School Library Journal, "it is Rusty-James, emotionally burnt out at 14, who is the ultimate victim" in Rumble Fish. While Abramson concluded that the "stylistically superb" novel "packs a punch that will leave readers of any age reeling," Anita Silvey echoed the sentiments of other reviewers by noting in Horn Book that the novel is unsatisfying and Hinton's continued writing efforts "unpromising."
Although it earned mixed reviews, Rumble Fish found many admirers. A Publishers Weekly contributor declared that "Hinton is a brilliant novelist," and Margery Fisher, writing in Growing Point, found the book "as uncompromising in its view of life as it is disciplined." While some reviwers complained of blatant symbolism in the character of Motorcycle Boy and the fighting fish that give the book its title, Fisher concluded that, "Of the three striking books by this young author, Rumble Fish seems the most carefully structured and the most probing."
Exploring themes from aloneness to biological necessity, Rumble Fish tackles large questions in a small package. As Daly concluded of the novel, "In the end we respond to Rumble Fish in a much deeper way than we do to That Was Then, This Is Now. It's an emotional, almost a physical response, as opposed to the more rational, intellectual reaction that the other book prompted." Daly went on to note that despite its defects in too-obvious symbolism, it "works as a novel .… And there is a name usually given to this kind of success. It is called art."
Hinton herself noted that she had been reading a lot about color symbolism and mythology when writing Rumble Fish, and that such concerns crept into the writing of the novel, especially in the character of Motorcycle Boy, the alienated, colorblind gang member looking for meaning.
The standard four years passed again before publication of Hinton's fourth title, Tex, which was, according to Daly, "Hinton's most successful effort" to date. Once again the reader is on familiar ground with near-orphan protagonists, and troubled youths. With Tex, however, Hinton creates a more sensitive and perhaps less troubled narrator.
Fourteen-year-old Tex is left in the care of his older brother Mason while their father is riding the rodeo circuit. When Mason is forced to sell off the family horses to pay bills, Tex's own horse, Negrito, must go. Straining an already strained relationship between the brothers, this loss prompts Tex to run off in search of his horse. When Mason and Tex are kidnaped by a hitchhiker (Mark from That Was Then, This Is Now, who has busted out of jail), Tex's presence of mind saves them, but gets the hitchhiker killed. The notoriety that follows brings the boys' father home, but disappointment follows when Dad fails to track down Negrito as he promised. Tex gets into more trouble and ultimately lands in the hospital with a bullet wound. After he learns that his real father was another rodeo rider, he begins to sort out his life and relationships, and ultimately finds a job working with the horses he loves.
While noting that "Hinton's style has matured since she exploded onto the YA scene in 1967," Marilyn Kaye added in a School Library Journal review of Tex that the author's "raw energy … has not been tamed—its been cultivated" to create "a fine, solidly constructed, and well-paced story." Growing Point reviewer Fisher once again had high praise for Hinton, concluding that in the novel she "has achieved that illusion of reality which any fiction writer aspires to and which few ever completely achieve."
Throughout the early 1980s, Hinton was busy with movie adaptations of her novels; in addition, her son was born in 1983. In 1988 she produced another novel, Taming the Star Runner, which, while dealing with her characteristic themes, also forged a new directions. Hinton moves from first-to third-person narration in the story of fifteen-year-old Travis Harris who is sent to work at his uncle's Oklahoma ranch in lieu of juvenile hall. Travis nearly killed his stepfather with a fireplace poker in an attack not unprovoked by the abusive step-parent. Unwillingly, Travis learns hard lessons on the ranch, and the change from urban to rural is not a Technicolor idyll. Travis arrives in the middle of his uncle's divorce, and the man is distant from him. In addition to deciding to become a writer, Travis spends much of his free time hanging out at a barn on the property that is rented to horse trainer Casey Kincaid. Casey is in the process of taming the eponymous stallion, Star Runner, and the story follows the relationship that grows between this unlikely pair.
Reviews of Taming the Star Runner were largely positive. Nancy Vasilakis commented in Horn Book that it "has been generally agreed that no one can speak to the adolescent psyche the way S. E. Hinton can," and with this novel the author "hasn't lost her touch." In the New York Times Book Review, Patty Campbell noted that "Hinton has produced another story of a tough young Galahad in black T-shirt and leather jacket. The pattern is familiar, but her genius lies in that she has been able to give each of the five protagonists she has drawn from this mythic model a unique voice and a unique story." Campbell also commented on the "drive and the wry sweetness and authenticity" of the authorial voice, concluding that "Hinton continues to grow in strength as a young adult novelist." A Kirkus Reviews contributor also found much to praise in the novel, remarking that "Hinton continues to grow more reflective in her books, but her great understanding, not of what teen-agers are but of what they can hope to be, is undiminished."
In addition to writing for teens, Hinton has also produced two books for younger readers. Big David, Little David is a picture book based on a joke Hinton and her husband played on their son Nick when the boy was entering kindergarten. In the book, a boy named Nick wonders if a classmate who resembles his father and has the same name could possibly be the same person as his father. Another title inspired by her son is The Puppy Sister, about a sibling rivalry between a puppy and an only child, a situation complicated when the puppy slowly changes into a human sister. Praising the book, a Publishers Weekly contributor dubbed The Puppy Sister an "irresistible fantasy" that presents "a unique, consistently witty account of growing pains."
In 2004 Hinton also experimented with the adult novel genre, producing Hawkes Harbor. Although it features a teen protagonist, the novel speaks to a more mature readership due to the elements of sexuality included in its plot; nonetheless, this story of an orphaned man named Jamie Sommers who slowly recalls his enslavement by a vampire boss when he is admitted to a mental ward. Described as "a dark, funny, scary, suspenseful tale" by a Publishers Weekly contributor, Hawkes Harbor was viewed as a good choice for Anne Rice fans, although Booklist critic Jennifer Mattson noted that in Hinton's plot "sentimentality frequently wells up along side the elements of parody."
Other than her infrequent publications, in more recent years Hinton has focused on family, and on her hobby of horseback riding. "I don't think I have a masterpiece in me," she once told Smith in the Los Angeles Times, "but I do know I'm writing well in the area I choose to write in. I understand kids and I really like them. And I have a very good memory. I remember exactly what it was like to be a teenager that nobody listened to or paid attention to or wanted around."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 3, 1978, Volume 23, 1991.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 30, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Daly, Jay, Presenting S. E. Hinton, Twayne, 1987.
De Montreville, Doris, and Elizabeth J. Crawford, editors, Fourth Book of Junior Authors, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1978, p. 176.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 454-455.
Wilson, Antoine, S. E. Hinton, Rosen (New York, NY), 2003.
American Film, April, 1983.
Atlantic Monthly, December, 1967, Nat Hentoff, review of The Outsiders.
Booklist, April 1, 1994, p. 1463; October 15, 1994, p. 413; January 15, 1995, p. 936; June 1, 1995, p. 1760; August, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Hawkes Harbor, p. 1871.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1995, p. 200; November, 1995, p. 92.
English Journal, September, 1989, p. 86.
Growing Point, May, 1976, Margery Fisher, review of Rumble Fish, p. 2894; May, 1980, Margery Fisher, review of Tex, pp. 3686-3687.
Horn Book, August, 1967, Jane Manthorne, review of The Outsiders, p. 475; July-August, 1971, Sheryl B. Andrews, review of That Was Then, This Is Now, p. 338; November-December, 1975, Anita Silvey, review of Rumble Fish, p. 601; January-February, 1989, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Taming the Star Runner, pp. 78-79.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1988, review of Taming the Star Runner, p. 1241; July 15, 2004, review of Hawkes Harbor, p. 648.
Library Journal, June 15, 1971, Brooke Anson, review of That Was Then, This Is Now, p. 2138.
Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1982, Dave Smith, "Hinton, What Boys Are Made Of."
Nation, March 8, 1986, Michael Malone, "Tough Puppies," pp. 276-278, 280.
Newsweek, October 11, 1982, Gene Lyons, "On Tulsa's Mean Streets," pp. 105-106.
New York Times Book Review, May 7, 1967, Thomas Fleming, review of The Outsiders, pp. 10-12; August 27, 1967, pp. 26-29; August 8, 1971, Michael Cart, review of That Was Then, This Is Now, p. 8; April 2, 1989, Patty Campbell, review of Taming the Star Runner, p. 26; November 19, 1995, p. 37; November 16, 1997, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, July 28, 1975, review of Rumble Fish, p. 122; December 12, 1994, p. 62; July 17, 1995, review of The Puppy Sister, p. 230; July 28, 1997, p. 77; August 9, 2004, review of Hawkes Harbor, p. 230.
Quill & Quire, April, 1995, p. 37.
School Library Journal, May 15, 1967, Lillian N. Gerhardt, review of The Outsiders, pp. 2028-2029; October, 1975, Jane Abramson, review of Rumble Fish, p. 106; November, 1979, Marilyn Kaye, review of Tex, p. 88; December, 1993, p. 70; April, 1995, p. 102; October, 1995, p. 104; May, 1996, p. 76.
Seventeen, October, 1967, "Face to Face with a Teen-age Novelist."
Signal, May, 1980, pp. 120-122.
Times Literary Supplement, October 30, 1970, review of The Outsiders.
Tulsa Daily World, April 7, 1967, Yvonne Litchfield, "Her Book to Be Published Soon, but Tulsa Teen-Ager Keeps Cool," p. 20.
University of Tulsa Annual, 1983-84, Linda Plemons, "Author Laureate of Adolescent Fiction," p. 62.
Washington Post Book World, February 12, 1989.
Writing!, January, 2004, Daniel Paul, "Like Brothers … until Things Changed: In That Was Then, This Is Now, S. E. Hinton Explores a Complex Relationship," p. 15.
S. E. Hinton Home Page, http://www.sehinton.com (May 3, 2005).