With the publication of The Outsiders, Susan Eloise Hinton revolutionized young adult literature. Considered the first modern young adult novel, the beginning of “new realism” in works for teenagers, this novel portrays teenagers realistically rather than idealistically. The Outsiders resonated with readers because Hinton captured characters, settings, and dialogue that were characteristic of teenage life in the United States, perhaps because she was a teenager when she wrote the novel.
Little is known of Hinton’s childhood, and some controversy exists even as to her year of birth, but most biographers agree that Hinton was a sophomore at Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School when she began writing The Outsiders. Her father, Grady P. Hinton, had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and her mother observed that the more ill her husband became, the harder Hinton worked on her writing. He died in her junior year, about the time she finished the book. She actually worked through four drafts of it and still had no dreams of having it published until a friend’s mother who wrote children’s books gave her the name of her agent in New York. Hinton sent her the manuscript and thus became a published author when the novel appeared in stores during the spring of her freshman year in college.
The book was published under her initials, to maintain her anonymity; the publisher was concerned that boys would find it difficult to relate to the book—despite the fact that it is written from the male perspective—if they knew the author was a woman. Writing from the male point of view seemed quite natural to Hinton, who considered herself a tomboy and had many close male friends. Further, part of the impetus for writing came from her need to read such a book. Up to that time, books for young adults tended to focus on issues like whether Betty Jane or Sally were going to be invited to the prom. Hinton also wrote in response to the divisions in her own school, the final push occurring after a friend suffered a terrible beating.
Royalties from The Outsiders, which initially sold four million copies, helped finance Hinton’s education at the University of Tulsa, where she majored in education and graduated with a B.S. in 1970. During this time she met David Inhofe, whom she married in 1970. He helped her to overcome a disabling writer’s block. Once she began taking literature courses at college and reread...
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