We’ve been sweating the birth date of S.E. Hinton, the celebrated author of the 1967 novel The Outsiders and other books for what used to be called “young adults” and now are often called “tweens.”
Hinton is not a public person by any means, but she’s particularly coy about her birthdate. Many sources say 1950 or 1948; others say 1949 or even 1951. A letter from reader Sebastian Collins (a 1948 proponent) prompted us to dig into the matter somewhat deeper.
Editor Paul Hehn, at the Tween Desk, went on the case. His first take: “She’s so cagey about her birthdate that even the New York Times has her age in their profile awhile back as ‘either 56 or 58,’ meaning a birth year of 1948 or 1950.”
Mr. Hehn especially spent time looking into the 1960s years when Hinton was first being published. A large part of the mythology of The Outsiders has to do with Hinton writing the book while she was still in high school. That story is true, but just when that happened isn’t already clear.
As he notes, “She says in the audio interview we link that she got the contracts for The Outsiders on the day she graduated high school, and she’s a 1966 grad of Will Rogers High School. If she was born in 1948 that would make her 17 at her high school graduation, turning 18 in the summer.”
“But to complicate matters, in a piece she wrote about herself she said (paraphrasing), ‘I began the first draft of The Outsiders when I was fifteen. Nobody believes that, so I usually say sixteen.’ Likewise, she sort-of says the publishers liked the idea of her being younger, so when her press says the book was published when she was 17, it could mean she was 17 when she got the contracts, but some other age when the book actually came out in the spring of 1967.”
In the end, Mr. Hehn came down firmly for 1948, not 1950. Shortly afterward, we discovered a book titled Presenting S.E. Hinton by Jay Daly, who formerly was the children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. On page two of his book (right up front!) he says, “Hinton was born in 1948, although the myth that grew up around her has obscured most of the simple facts of her life, and she has done very little to help clear up any of the confusion that has resulted from it.” He notes, “Hinton has been known to begin question and answer sessions, by the way, with a comment like ‘There are three questions I will not answer: How old am I now, how much money do I make, and how’s my love life.'”
Daly also offers a very useful chronology which lists her being born on 22 July 1948, entering Will Rogers High School in Tulsa in 1963, and enrolling at the University of Tulsa in 1966.
Does Daly know what he’s talking about? We think so, even though he doesn’t state an exact reference (like a birth certificate) for his firm endorsement of 1948. But he seems as well-informed as anyone. In the notes and references section in the back of the book, Daly says, “The quotations attributed to Hinton in this chapter, and throughout the book, are primarily from three sources: a talk she gave at the Boston Public Library on 20 September 1980; an interview with Linda Plemons, titled “Author Laureate of Adolescent Fiction,” in the University of Tulsa Annual, 1983-84; and personal conversations with the author.”
Daly also dedicates the book to his daughter Eowyn, a J.R.R. Tolkien reference which shows he’s serious enough about young adult lit to go the extra mile in his own family.
Finally, as Mr. Hehn notes, “If you’re really born in 1950, wouldn’t you want to settle the ‘1948 or 1950?’ question on the side of you being younger?” While that’s not proof of anything, it does seem like common sense.
So, thank you for asking, Sebastian Collins! We formally agree with you that S.E. Hinton was born in 1948.