S. E. Hinton
The Outsiders was published during Hinton’s freshman year at the University of Tulsa, and was an immediate sensation.Today, with more than eight million copies in print, the book is the best-selling young adult novel of all time, and one of the most hauntingly powerful views into the thoughts and feelings of teenagers. The book was also made into a film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and featuring such future stars as Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, and Tom Cruise.
Once published, The Outsiders gave her a lot of publicity and fame, and also a lot of pressure. S.E. Hinton was becoming known as “The Voice of the Youth” among other titles. This kind of pressure and publicity resulted in a three year long writer’s block.
Her boyfriend (and now, her husband), who had gotten sick of her being depressed all the time, eventually broke this block. He made her write two pages a day if she wanted to go anywhere. This eventually led to That Was Then, This Is Now.
In the years since, Ms. Hinton has married and now has a teenaged son, Nick. She continues to write, with such smash successes as That Was Then, This Is Now, Rumble Fish and Tex, almost as well known as The Outsiders. She still lives in Tulsa with her husband and son, where she enjoys writing, riding horses, and taking courses at the university.
In a wonderful tribute to Hinton’s distinguished 30-year writing career, the American Library Association and School Library Journal bestowed upon her their first annual Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors authors whose “book or books, over a period of time, have been accepted by young people as an authentic voice that continues to illuminate their experiences and emotions, giving insight into their lives.”
copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.
A conversation with… S. E. Hinton
You were a 16-year-old high school student in Oklahoma when you wrote The Outsiders. How did you pursue getting it published?I was actually fifteen when I first began it. It was the year I was sixteen and a junior in high school that I did the majority of the work. When I wrote it I had no idea of getting it published. At school one day I mentioned to a friend that I wrote, and she mentioned to me that her mother wrote children’s books. She said, “Why don’t you let my mother read your stuff?” I gave her a copy of The Outsiders, and this woman showed it to a friend of hers who had a New York agent. She said, “Send this to my agent. Maybe she can get it published for you.” I didn’t believe that was going to happen, but I mailed it to her. She has been my agent ever since.
The Outsiders made some pretty strong statements about the importance of school, of books, and of experiencing the world outside of your neighborhood and your clique. Were you consciously trying to send those messages to your readers?No. I look back and I think it was totally written in my subconscious or something. I was mad about the social situation in my high school, and I’ve always been an introspective person. A lot of Ponyboy’s thoughts were my thoughts. He’s probably the closest I’ve come to putting myself into a character. I didn’t have any grand design. I just sat down and started writing it.
When you wrote The Outsiders, did you have any sense that it would become a success?No, because I wasn’t thinking about it for publication; I was writing it for myself. That’s the best way to write a book.
You have a son who is right around Ponyboy’s age. What does he think of the book, and of having a famous author for a mom?His class read it in school last year. I’d asked him not to read it before then. It’s not the kind of thing he’d pick up to read, anyway. He’s into science fiction and fantasy. He said, “Everybody seemed to like it. I didn’t hear anybody say they didn’t.” But he’s grown up with it. In grade school he came home one day and said, “You know, Mom, having S. E. Hinton for a mother is like having George Bush for a father.” And I said, “I assure you, honey, George Bush is not your father!”
You must get thousands of letters from young people about your books. What do kids say about The Outsiders?Most kids say, “I didn’t know anybody else felt that way. I didn’t think I was going to like this book, but I just loved it.” They’re not going to sit around and tell each other they watch sunsets. That’s totally uncool. And reading a book is such a private experience. It’s a mind connection. I really feel that the emotional intensity is what they respond to.
Have their reactions changed over time?No. The concept of the in group and the out group remains the same. The uniforms change, and the names of the groups change, but they really grasp that right away. They say, “OK, this is like the Preppies and the Punks, or whatever they call them.
What books and authors inspired you to become a writer?Well, as an adult, I can pick out a lot of authors who have influenced me. But people want to know your childhood influences, and I’ll have to say just books in general. I loved to read, and as soon as I learned how I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I was a horse nut, and Peanuts the Pony was the first book I ever checked out of the library. I still remember that book. The act of reading was so pleasurable and such a connection. For an introverted kid, it’s a means of communication, because you interact with the author even if you aren’t sitting there conversing with them. Books and reading were the largest influences on my writing, but I can’t name any book or author that changed my life.
If you were to revisit the characters from The Outsiders as adults,where do you think they’d be today?I always say I’ll never write a sequel, so I have no grand scenario planned out. Soda was killed two weeks before his nineteenth birthday in Vietnam. His friend Steve came back from Vietnam a heroin addict and he’s been married twice and divorced twice. But now he’s a drug counselor. Darry owns a successful construction business. Ponyboy is an expatriate writer. He writes mysteries under the name P. M. Curtis.
When this book came out it shocked a lot of people. Did that surprise you?No. Because every teenager feels that adults have no idea what’s going on. That’s exactly the way I felt. I was pleased that they were shocked. One of my reasons for writing it was that I wanted something realistic written about teenagers. At that time there was no realistic teenage fiction. If you didn’t want to read “Mary Jane Goes to the Prom” and you were through with horse books, there was nothing to read. I just wanted to write something that dealt with what I saw kids really doing.
You were a pioneer in writing realistic teen fiction, and as a result, didn’t get a lot of notoriety or appreciation when you wrote The Outsiders. Does that botheryou?No. I’m glad that did not happen. It’s very, very satisfying to have a success that’s been based on word of mouth. The Outsiders was not any overnight, quick-to-the-top-of-the-list sensation. It built gradually, from teachers telling teachers and kids telling kids, and it is a really great satisfaction that The Outsiders is where it is today.
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