S. E. Hinton Biography

At a Glance

S. E. Hinton was drawn to writing novels for young adults because she couldn’t stand the literature she was forced to read when she was in high school. She was only a freshman in high school when she started what would become her most famous work, The Outsiders, the second biggest seller in young adult books even today. Unafraid of exposing teenage rebellion, acts of juvenile delinquency, and social conduct found in teenage subcultures, Hinton went on to write four more novels, including Rumble Fish, that spoke directly to teens, expressing their feelings as best she could rather than trying to preach to them. Not surprisingly, Hinton herself is a bit of a rebel. She now refuses to speak or to read in public to promote her books.

Facts and Trivia

  • Susan Eloise Hinton chose to use only her first and middle initials (S. E.) when it came time to publish her first novel. She figured that boys wouldn’t read her book if they knew a girl had written it.
  • Not only did one of the greatest directors ever, Francis Ford Coppola, direct the movie version of The Outsiders, but some of the greatest up-and-coming young movie actors starred in it: Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, and Tom Cruise.
  • Hinton’s realistic depiction of life in her novels changed the trend in books written for young adults, which had previously displayed only sugarcoated versions of the struggles real teens dealt with.
  • When it came time for her to write her second novel, That Was Then, This Is Now, she was stumped and couldn’t write at all. Her future husband helped out by refusing to take her out on a date until she showed him that she had written at least two pages that day.
  • Hinton was trained to be a teacher, but she never taught. After her practice-teaching, she realized she became too emotionally involved with her students’ life stories.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

For a writer who has sold millions of copies of her novels, S. E. (Susan Eloise) Hinton carries a very brief and unassuming biography. She was born and has spent most of her life in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is also the setting for her fiction. In her junior year of high school, her father died of cancer; that same year, at the age of seventeen, she completed the manuscript for The Outsiders (1967). She enrolled in the University of Tulsa in 1966, and the novel was published in her freshman year. She graduated in 1970 with a degree in education. She and her husband, David Inhofe, live in Tulsa, where their son, Nicholas David, was born in 1983.

While Hinton has given several interviews, she remains a private and rather shadowy figure. The myths that have grown up about her—that she was herself a gang member like the young “greasers” she depicts so graphically in The Outsiders, for example—are probably more a tribute to her novels: Her young fans get so involved in her work that they imagine more about her than can be true. Her private life has remained just that, and she has gained the most publicity by involving herself in two of the film productions of her novels: She was present on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders in 1983 (she plays a minor part as a nurse in the film), and she wrote the screenplay for Coppola’s film version of Rumble Fish (the novel was published in 1975) later that year.

By the time Hinton was thirty-one, she had four major young adult works under her belt and was considered by many critics and teachers to be one of the most important figures in the development of the young adult novel. In July of 1988, she was awarded the first YASD/SLJ Author Achievement Award, given by the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association and School Library Journal, for novels that provide young adults “a window through which they can view their world and which [can] help them to grow and to understand themselves and their role in society.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

A popular young adult novelist, Hinton reuses many elements throughout her novels. Few parents appear in her novels, and the protagonists are often searching for substitutes, which they find in slightly older males; the focus is primarily on young men bonding with one another. Her plots are action-packed, and the central character usually narrates the story of his emerging self and conflicting loyalties. Both the strengths and weaknesses of the young adult genre are apparent in Hinton’s work. She has created a unique first-person voice that invites readers to share the story.

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(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Author Profile

In 1967, at the age of seventeen, S. E. Hinton published The Outsiders because, she said, “A lot of adult literature was older than I was ready for. The kids’ books were Mary Jane-Goes-to-the-Prom.” She portrayed her characters in honest, almost brutal fashion. The book was hailed by critics who felt that, as opposed to many authors, Hinton depicted adolescence not as a mindless, muddle-headed period but as a painful, dangerous time that often had an unhappy ending. Her later books included That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Tex (1979), Rumble Fish (1977), and Taming the Star Runner (1988).

The language, violence, and realism of...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Susan Eloise Hinton was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1948. As a teenager, she was shy and did not like to draw attention to herself, yet she did not conform to the expected pursuits of a teenage girl at that time. She was a tomboy who loved horses, and although she generally did not suffer directly from the social tension that existed between the socioeconomic classes in her town, she felt keenly the effects that such tension had on those around her.

While Hinton was in high school, her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was hospitalized for extended periods of time. In response, Hinton threw herself into the novel she had begun writing in order to create the type of realistic fiction she herself craved as a reader. She completed the first draft during her junior year, around the same time her father died. She then polished the work in subsequent drafts but did not consider submitting it for publication until a writer acquaintance advised her to send it to her own agent. The book was quickly accepted, and during the editorial process, Hinton graduated from high school and began attending the University of Tulsa, initially majoring in journalism and later switching to education. It was during this time that Hinton’s publisher encouraged her to use the gender-neutral initials for her byline, fearing that reviewers might dismiss a male-oriented book written by a female author.

Although it was not technically an overnight sensation,...

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