Often considered the most successful novelist for the junior high and high school audience, S. E. Hinton is credited with creating realistic young adult literature. Her career began with the publication of her first book, The Outsiders (1967), at the age of seventeen.
Susan Eloise Hinton was born on July 22, 1950, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Remarking that there was little to do for a child growing up in Tulsa, Hinton turned to reading and writing at a very early age. The shy girl also had dreams of becoming a cattle rancher, until she abandoned this desire for a writing career.
As a teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hinton developed her love of literature but often found her options limited and boring. While she was a junior in high school, Hinton's father was diagnosed with cancer, a terrible and often fatal disease. To help her deal with her father's condition, Hinton turned to writing. During this time, Hinton completed a book she called The Outsiders.
Based on events that occurred in her high school in Tulsa, The Outsiders describes the rivalry between two gangs, the lower-middle-class "greasers" and the upper-class "socs" (for Socials), a conflict that leads to the deaths of members of both gangs. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Ponyboy, a sensitive, orphaned greaser who tells the story in retrospect (after the events occurred), The Outsiders explores the friendship, loyalty, and affection that lie behind the gang mystique while pointing out both the similarities in the feelings of the opposing groups and the uselessness of gang violence. Through his encounters with death, Ponyboy learns that he does not have to remain an outsider.
Initially regarded as controversial for its portrayal of rebellious youth, the novel is now recognized as a classic of juvenile literature as well as a unique accomplishment for so young a writer. The Outsiders was a major success among teenagers, selling more than four million copies in the United States alone. The book's popularity enabled Hinton to attend the University of Tulsa, where in 1970 she earned an education degree and met her future husband, David Inhofe. However, gaining fame and fortune at eighteen was not without problems—Hinton had writer's block for several years.
Eventually, however, Hinton produced a second novel, That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), a tale of two foster brothers, Bryon and Mark, who are drifting apart. One becomes more involved in school and girlfriends, the other moves deeper into a career of crime and drugs. In Rumble Fish (1975), Hinton continued to explore the themes of gang violence and growing up. In this story a bitter young man, in a struggle to acquire a tough reputation, gradually loses everything meaningful to him. Hinton's next book, Tex (1979), which follows two brothers left in each other's care by their rambling father, likewise investigates how delinquent youths try to make it in a world shaped by protest, drugs, violence, and family disruption.
Hinton spent the ten-year interval between Tex and her next novel, Taming the Star Runner (1986), advising on the sets of several film adaptations of her books and starting a family. She also wrote the screenplay for the feature film version of Rumble Fish with director Francis Ford Coppola. In 1988 Hinton received the first Young Adult Services Division/ School Library Journal Author Award from the American Library Association.
Hinton has not produced as much work as other young adult novelists, but that has not prevented her from becoming a consistent favorite with her audience. Two of the movies adapted from her books, Tex and The Outsiders, were filmed in response to suggestions from young readers.
Even though she is no longer a teenager involved in the world about which she writes, Hinton believes that she is suited to writing adolescent fiction: "I don't think I have a masterpiece in me, but I do know I'm writing well in the area I choose to write in," she commented to Dave Smith of the Los Angeles Times. "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. I mean, it wasn't like that with my own family, but I knew a lot of kids like that and hung around with them.… Somehow I always understood them. They were my type."
In 1995 Hinton published two books for younger readers, Puppy Sister and Big David, Little David, her first picture book. The intensely private Hinton lives in northern California with her husband and son, Nicholas David.
Daly, Jay. Presenting S. E. Hinton. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Wilson, Antoine. S. E. Hinton. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2002.