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Stephen King | Biography

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Early Life

Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine, to Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. His father abandoned the family when King was two. King's mother worked hard to support herself, Stephen, and his older brother, David. After several moves, they settled in Durham, Maine, when King was 11. The family was very close, and King was devastated when his mother died of cancer in 1980. Because of his upbringing, King uses Maine as a setting in many of his novels, and much of his work features strong female characters

In 1970 King earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Maine at Orono, where he met his future wife, Tabitha Spruce. The couple married in 1971 and had two of their three children while King was still quite young. He juggled a series of odd jobs, a teaching position, and parenthood with his writing aspirations. Nevertheless he completed and sold his first novel, Carrie—about a bullied misfit with telekinetic powers who takes revenge on her high school tormentors—in 1973, and it was published the following year. The paperback rights gave him sufficient means to quit teaching and focus on writing full time. Carrie was an instant success, as was its 1976 film adaptation. Many more novels and film adaptations followed. With more than 50 titles in his catalog, King is one of the most prolific writers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He is also one of the most commercially successful; it is estimated he has sold more than 350 million books worldwide.

Genre

King is best known as a horror writer, although he has branched into other genres over the years, including fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and mystery. King's novels feature a host of scary creatures—from rabid dogs and angry teenagers to vampires, ghosts, and sewer monsters—but they also explore the darkest depths of human nature and the destructive potential of governments, social structures, and technology. He told Rolling Stone magazine in 2014, "The stuff I was drawn to was built in as part of my equipment"—in other words, those dark and destructive topics have always been inside him. Despite—or perhaps because of—his commercial success, literary critics frequently dismissed King as a genre writer, claiming his writing was pure entertainment for the masses, not a platform to consider the weighty human dilemmas believed to define great literature. When King received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003, some critics were unhappy. In an interview with the New York Times, Richard Snyder, a cofounder of the National Book Foundation, acknowledged King's work sells a lot of copies and then added, "But is it literature? No." King has long spoken openly against "cultural elitism" and critical traditions that give genre fiction less literary credibility, and his influence has helped reshape attitudes toward popular and genre fiction in recent decades.

In addition to monsters, King's novels and short stories feature several other recurring elements. One is American popular culture. Many of his works include references to songs, television, and film. Another element is the danger of substance abuse. King has been open about his struggle with alcohol and drug addiction during the first two decades of his career; he has been sober since the late 1980s. This struggle worked its way into early novels such as The Shining (1977) and Misery (1987). In his later work, addiction remains a destructive force and the cause of unhappiness for both major and minor characters. Childhood is another recurring element. In King's early novels, such as Carrie, Firestarter (1980), Pet Sematary (1983), Christine (1983), and It, children and teenagers are main characters, allowing King to explore various hazards and learning experiences of growing up. King's later work bears the influence of another life-threatening experience—a 1999 accident in which he was hit by a minivan while walking near his home in Maine.

It

It is set in a small city in Maine, similar to the locales in which King grew up and has lived for most of his adult life. Some biographical elements are evident in It's male main characters. Bill Denbrough, the leader of the Losers' Club, is most clearly based on King. Bill begins writing stories when he is young, and his brother and friends know him for this talent. Bill attends the University of Maine and finds success as a best-selling writer of horror novels that become film adaptations. However, the similarities between King and the boys of It do not stop with Bill. Mike Hanlon stays in Derry, just as King has remained in Maine for most of his life, and as the Derry town librarian and accidental historian, Mike shares King's love of books and language. Like King, Stan Uris marries his wife right out of college. Richie Tozier shares King's love of rock 'n' roll music and wears heavy glasses like those King wears in many photos. Ben Hanscom is the overweight son of a hardworking single mother, and King has described himself as "a fat kid" who was picked last for sports teams. Eddie Kaspbrak also lives with a single mother, although King describes his own mother as more loving and less manipulative than Sonia Kaspbrak.

It was the top-selling hardcover fiction novel in 1986, according to the New York Times Best-Seller list, and it was the fourth most popular paperback seller the following year. The novel has remained popular in the years since. A 1990 TV miniseries was mostly well received, thanks largely to Tim Curry's performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The 2017 film release, starring Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, generated significant anticipation among fans.

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