Stephen King: Biography, Books, and Major Achievements and Awards
An iconic personality of the American literature whose works are known worldwide and have inspired several Hollywood films, Stephen King is a renowned author in the horror genre. The Maine, U.S.-born writer is widely seen as one of the greatest American novelists of the modern era.
King has also gained critical acclaim for his mastery of suspense, sci-fi and fantasy. In his more than half a century writing career, he has produced over 60 novels and amassed several hundreds of short stories. Some of his major works include It, The Shining, and The Dark Tower series.
World History Edu highlights the life and major achievements of Stephen King, a prominent American horror genre writer.
Stephen King: Fast Facts
Born: Stephen Edwin King
Birthday: September 21, 1947
Height: 6’4” (193 cm)
Place of birth: Portland, Maine, United States
Parents: Donald Edwin King and Nellie ruth
Siblings: David King
Education: University of Maine, Lisbon Falls High School, Durham Elementary School
Wife: Tabitha King (married in 1971)
Children: Joe, Naomi, and Owen
Most famous works: Carrie (1974), The Shining (1977), It (1986), Billy Summers (2021)
Film adaptations: Doctor Sleep (2019), It (2017), The Dark Tower (2017), The Shining (1980)
Epithets: The King of Horror
Pseudonyms: Richard Bachman, John Swithen and Beryl Evans
Major awards: Horror Award for Best Adaptation (2005), Deutscher Phantastik Presi For International Author of the Year (2004), Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award (2002), USC Scripter Award (1995)
Birth and early life
Stephen King was born Stephen Edwin King on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine.
He is the second child of Donald Edwin King, a sea merchant and Nellie Ruth, a housewife. His father abandoned his family when Stephen King was just a toddler. His father’s absence caused his family to struggle financially.
Following his parents’ separation, Stephen, his mother and his older brother settled in Stratford, Connecticut, for a while. They would however make a return to Maine when Stephen King was eleven.
Education and early writing career
King attended the Durham Elementary School before proceeding to Lisbon Falls High School. It was during his time in high school that he took to writing as a hobby. One of his stories, a 6,000-word story – ‘I Was a Teenage Grave Robber’, was published in Comics Review in 1965.
King also wrote a number of stories in his brother’s newspaper, Dave’s Rag. As he writing skills got better, he started selling the stories he wrote to his neighborhood friends. While still in his teens, he was honored with the Scholastic Art and Writing Award.
After his high school education, King enrolled at the University of Maine in 1966. His first published short story was titled Startling Mystery Stories. In 1970, he graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in English.
While at the University of Maine, Stephen King honed his talents, writing a collection of 18 short stories. He coauthored (with his friend Chris Chesley) a book titled ‘People, Places and Things’. King also contributed to the university’s newspaper.
Fresh out of the university, King struggled to establish himself as a writer, or for that matter to secure a job of his liking. He first worked as an attendant at a laundry shop. Regardless, he never stopped writing in his free time.
Prior to his writing career lifting off, King was a tutor at a public high school (Hampden Academy), having earned an education certificate after graduating college.
While a high school teacher, King continued to hone his skill sets in writing. His first novel, The Long Walk, did not do so well commercially. Likewise, his novel ‘The Glass Floor’ was met with lukewarm response. The short story was sold to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967. The young writer is said to have had an uphill struggle to establish himself as a horror writer.
In 1974, Stephen King published his first successful novel Carrie, a book about a bullied teenage girl, Carrie White, who gained telekinetic power and proceeds to carry out reprisal attacks against all the people who wronged her in her past.
Stephen King’s Carrie, which was published by the publishing house Doubleday, received movie adaptations in 1976 and 2013. The first film adaptation, which was directed by American filmmaker and screenwriter Brian Russell De Palma, stars Sissy Spacek as the main character Carrie White.
Salem’s Lot (1975)
After Carrie, King wrote a number of short stories and a popular novel titled Salem’s Lot in 1975. Salem’s Lot received a number of nominations, including the Locus Award for the All-Time Best Fantasy Novel in 1987. King has on a number of times described the book, which he dedicated to his daughter Naomi, as his favorite.
Critically acclaimed books by Stephen King
King has published 63 novels and a plethora of short stories in the horror, science-fiction and fantasy genres. Having sold more than 340 million books worldwide, he often ranks as one of the most popular and commercially successful writers of all time, especially in horror story genre.
The following are 5 of his most critically acclaimed books:
Stephen King’s The Shining (1977)
Three years after ‘Carrie’, King published one of his most critically acclaimed novels, The Shining. The book takes readers through the world of young boy with immense psychic abilities as he navigates through the past ills that transpired in a hotel he and his parents were staying in. The Shining basically established King as one of America’s beloved horror genre writers.
Pet Sematary (1983)
King’s Pet Sematary, published in 1983, further cemented the Portland, Maine-born writer as a star in the horror genre. The book received a nomination at the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1984.
In the book, King incites a lot of fear in the readers’ minds by beautifully telling the story of a cemetery imbued with magical powers to bring back to life the people that were laid to rest there. Such was the popularity of the Pet Sematary that movie producers adapted the book into a commercially successful horror movie.
The horror novel It was Stephen King’s 17th novel. A truly fear-gripping book, It follows the lives of seven children who are traumatized by a devilish being who feeds off the fears of the people it hunts. The 1,138-page novel explores themes of childhood trauma as well as the power of courage over evil. King bagged the British Fantasy Award in 1987 for this novel. He also received a number of nominations, including the World Fantasy Awards.
In 2017, an adapted film of the book titled It did very well at the box office. Two years later, in September 2019, a sequel, It Chapter Two, grossed almost half a billion USD worldwide. Both films were directed by Argentine filmmaker Andrés Muschietti. The second movie starred the likes of James McAvoy, Bil Hader, and Jessica Chastain.
The Dark Tower series
In the Dark Tower series, Stephen King incorporates many themes from J.R.R. Tolkein’s world and the American Wild West. As at 2021, there are eight books and one short story in the series. The first of book of the series, The Gunslinger, was published in 1982. In the four decades that followed, King published The Drawing of the Three (1987), The Waste Lands (1991), Wizard and Glass (1997), The Little Sisters of Eluria (1998), Wolves of the Calla (2003), Song of Susannah (2004), The Dark Tower (2004), and The wind Through the Keyhole (2012).
In August 2017, a film adaptation of The Dark Tower was released. The film was directed by Nikolaj Arcel. It stars English actor Idris Elba and American multiple-award actor and producer Matthew McConaughey.
The 1980s were indeed a very good decade for Stephen King as he penned down major hits after hits. One of such novels was Misery, published in 1987. The novel is about a writer who incurs the wrath of mentally unstable fan over the ending of one of the writer’s books. The antagonist in the novel abducts the writer and gruesomely tortures him into rewriting an ending that he felt the book deserved.
Other achievements of Stephen King
Stephen King is an American author famous for his mastery of science-fiction, fantasy and most importantly horror novels. With sales of more 340 million copies worldwide, many of Stephen King’s books have been turned into TV series, films and comic books.
In 2002, he received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was honored for his contribution to the horror genre.
He has been awarded numerous Bram Stoker Awards in categories like Best Novel, Best Fiction Collection, Best Long Fiction, and Best Short Fiction. In 2014, his novel Doctor Sleep won the Best Novel Bram Stoker Award.
In 1980, he received the Balrog Award for Professional Achievement. A year later, in 1981, the British Fantasy Award honored him with a Special Award for his works and achievements.
In 2003, he was honored with the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Awards. The award was established in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association.
He was one of the recipients of the National Medal of Arts in 2015. The award was bestowed upon him by then-US president Barack Obama.
King is also a Hugo Award-winner, having claimed the honor for Best Non-Fiction Book in 1982 with his horror novel Danse Macabre (1981).
Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft
What triggered Stephen King’s interest in the horror genre? Growing up, King was avid reader of many novels, particularly horror novels and short stories written by his American sci-fi and horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937).While in high school, King was an avid reader of EC horror comics.
Subconsciously, his suppressed memory of his friend’s gruesome death after being hit by a train likely influenced King to write horror stories for a living.
Other famous books by Stephen King
- ‘The Green Mile’ (1996)
- ‘Black House’ (2001)
- ‘Duma Key’ (2008)
- ‘Joyland’ (2013)
- ‘Doctor Sleep’ (2013)
- ‘Mr. Mercedes’ (2014)
- ‘Billy Summers’ (2021)
Stephen King’s pseudonyms
Among all the pseudonyms that Stephen King went by, Richard Bachman is perhaps the most famous. He published a great number of short stories and novels as Richard Bachman. And when the public got to know that ‘Richard Bachman’ was the pen name of Stephen King, there was a huge surge in the sale of Richard Bachman’s books, including books like Rage (1977), Roadwork (1981), and The Running Man (1982).
It’s been said that the horror writer invented this pen name of his because he believed that the public would be much more open to his works. The name was derived from the combination of writer Richard Stark’s name and musician Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Other aliases used by Stephen King include John Swithen and Beryl Evans. Under the latter pseudonym, he published a children’s book titled Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the World of the Dark Tower in 2016.
Stephen King’s books that have been adapted into film or TV
Another very interesting fact worth mentioning about Stephen King is the sheer number of Television and film adaptations that his books have received.
Examples of such books that proved to be popular and critically acclaimed film adaptations are The Shining (released in 1980), a movie which starred Hollywood great Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall; It, a classic horror film adaption that has seen remakes in the 2010s; and The Shawshank Redemption, a 1994 movie that starred Morgan Freeman and Tim Robins. The latter movie adaptation, like many others, received several Oscar nominations.
After a brilliant performance in a film adaptation of King’s Misery, Hollywood actress Kathy Bates bagged an Oscar for playing the mentally unstable character Annie Wilkes. Bates starred alongside actor James Caan.
Another very famous movie adaptation of Stephen King book is The Green Mile (1996). Set in the 1930s, the prison-based story follows a death row supervisor and his interactions with a peculiar inmate. Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan distinguished themselves brilliantly in the film adaptation which was released in 1999.
The childhood trauma that likely inspired King to venture into the horror genre
Growing up and reading H.P. Lovecraft and other famous authors of the era possibly influenced King to pursue horror and dark themed works. However, some have claimed that a trauma in King’s early years explains why the author has a strong fascination with horror stories.
When King was child, he saw his friend get hit and killed by a train. The young King came home shocked and lost for words for a period of time. Interestingly, King has stated on a number of times that he had no recollection of the tragic event.
Authors that influenced Stephen King
In addition to American horror and fantasy author H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King has stated that he takes a lot of inspiration from the works of novelists and authors like Don Robertson (1929-1999), Elmore Leonard (1925-2013) and Welsh author Arthur Machen (1863-1947).
Some of Stephen King’s beloved books are Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain, The Satanic Verses (1988) by Salman Rushdie; and McTeague (1899) by Frank Norris.
More Stephen King Facts
In 1985, he wrote some stories for the comics X-Men – Heroes for Hope Staring the X-Men. Other comic authors that contributed to the book include Stan Lee and Chris Claremont. The profits generated from the comics were donated to charity organizations fighting famine in Africa.
Stephen King is big fan of the Boston Red Sox in the Major League Baseball.
Carrie (1974), Stephen King’s first published novel, was intended to be a short story for Cavalier magazine. However, his wife encouraged him not to discard it. King later worked on it and then had it published by Doubleday. King received about $2,500 advance from the publishing house.
In his early youth, he was arrested and fined $250 for stealing road traffic cones. He used the sale of his short story “The Raft” to pay the fine.
A master of the horror genre, Stephen King has to his credit over 200 short stories.
Stephen King was raised in a Methodist home. He did however lose a great deal of faith in organized religion in his teens. He has hinted at the possibility of being an agnostic.
Stephen King loves music and plays the guitar. Unbeknownst to many, he is part of a music band called Rock Bottom Remainders, which also includes writers Dave Barry and Amy Tan. The music group often sings for charitable initiatives.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Stephen King was known for authoring many novels in a single year. This explains why at some point he chose to use the alias Richard Bachman, as he held the notion that the public wouldn’t be very welcoming to an author that publishes several books in a year.
Under the alias Richard Bachman, Stephen King has published at least seven novels.
In June, 1999, he was badly hit by vehicle while walking on the shoulder of a street in Lovell, Maine. The driver of the vehicle, Bryan Edwin Smith, was charged with aggravated assault and then handed sentence (suspended) of six months in jail. Following the accident and the five operations that were carried out, he underwent intensive physical therapy. The accident seriously affected his ability to sit more than 40 minutes, as he suffered excruciating pain in his hip.
Famous quotes by Stephen King
Stephen King’s honed his talent in his teens. He would go on to author many critically acclaimed horror and science fiction books, selling more than 340 million copies in his distinguished writing career.
Wife and children
Stephen King married Tabitha Spruce in 1971. The marriage produced three children – one daughter and two sons – Naomi Rachel, Joseph Hillstrom, and Own Philip.
About a year after graduating from the University of Maine, Stephen King tied the knot with his sweetheart from the university Tabhita Spruce. Together with Tabitha, the undisputed king of horror stories gave birth to three children – two sons and one daughter. His two sons followed in his footstep to become published writers.