Meet the top 100: Stephen King

“There was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. That’s why I do it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.” – Stephen King

Stephen Edwin King was born in Maine, in the US, in 1947. When he was two years old, his father “went to buy cigarettes” and left his mother to raise him and his brother David. He had a religious upbringing, his mother being a Methodist.

He had an early interest in reading and writing, and soon started working on his brother’s newspaper Dave’s Rag, which would eventually get him into trouble at school. He was already interested in the genre that would eventually make him famous, and enjoyed reading EC’s horror comics, but it was his experience of normal life that had the biggest influence on his work.

According to King’s mother, he came home one day after playing with friends and was “white as a sheet.” He didn’t say why but went into his room and curled up on his bed. She later found out that a young boy playing on the tracks had been hit by a train. King told Barnes & Noble in an interview: “I don’t have any memory of it myself, but I remember my mother saying they picked up the pieces in a basket.”

His first submission was to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine – the short story “Happy Stamps.” When he received the rejection note, with a personal note on it advising him not to staple manuscripts, he stuck it on a nail in his wall – a spot where he would collect many more such slips. But he wasn’t deterred; as he recalled in On Writing, “When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”

He continued to write, submit and pin his rejections to the wall. His first sale happened in 1967: a short story, “The Glass Floor,” which was published in Startling Mystery Stories.

At the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for The Maine Campus and graduated in 1970 with a BA in English. A year later, he married Tabitha Spruce, whom he had met in the Fogler Library at university. That same year, he started teaching English at a high school in Maine, but continued to write stories and work on novels in his spare time.

In 1973, his first novel, Carrie, was accepted for publication. When the publisher called to tell him about the $400,000 he would receive, King was stunned; that was the beginning of his lucrative career as an author. ‘Salem’s Lot followed, another hit, and then The Shining and The Stand – the three S boys, as Tabitha calls them.

Over the years, he became addicted to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs, leading him to admit in On Writing that he hardly remembered writing Cujo. His family and friends held an intervention and he has been sober since the late 1980s.

King continued to write, with novel after novel hitting the bestseller list. He worked diligently, every day in his writing memoir On Writing, he provides a glimpse into his process and secrets, including his assertion that “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

One of King’s habits was to walk. In the summer of 1999, he was walking along the shoulder of a main road when a minivan hit him at full speed, knocking him four metres from the pavement. He was conscious when the police arrived, and managed to provide an emergency contact number, but he had suffered serious injuries: a collapsed lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, a broken hip and a large cut on his head.

King was in hospital for almost a month, and when he was discharged he was still in so much pain that he could only sit and write in forty-minute stints. Three years on, he announced he would stop writing, but he has since continued, albeit at a slower rate.

Since the early days, King has been a prolific writer. The list of his published work on his website takes some scrolling, at 422 items, 54 of which are novels. Seven of these were written under his pseudonym Richard Bachman, a decision he made to get around the problem of publishers not wanting to release more than one book a year. “I adopted Richard Bachman and that was that it made it possible for me to do two books in one year,” he wrote in an FAQ. “I just did them under different names and eventually the public got wise to this because you can change your name but you can’t really disguise your style.”

King is a master of visual language, which has led to many of his novels and stories being adapted for the screen. “My first editor, Bill Thompson, used to tell people Stephen King has a projector in his head, and that might have something to do with certain visual elements of the stories that have attracted producers and directors,” he told Vanity Fair. He has so far racked up 238 “based on the original story by” writer credits, and appeared personally 22 times on TV and in films.

With fantasy, science fiction, suspense and horror sensations under his belt, King has earned a reputation as one of the best horror writers in history. He has won a multitude of awards – some several times over – including Bram Stoker Awards and World Fantasy Awards. In 2003 he won The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and in 2014 the National Medal of Arts. Most recently, he received the 2018 PEN America literary service award, for “a critically acclaimed writer whose body of work helps us understand and interpret the human condition, engendering empathy and imagination in even the darkest hours.”

Why is he on the list?

Every author on the list has earned their place through scores assigned to various prizes, sales, reader ratings and expert collections.

  • Best-selling authors – Wikipedia (various sources)
  • Goodreads Best Books Ever
  • Amazon Most popular authors
  • The Best 100 Authors
  • Ranker
  • Book Depository
  • The Ideal Library
  • The Greatest Books of All Time
  • Book awards: The 100 Favorite Novels of Librarians

Read about King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King: The Art of Darkness by Douglas E. Winter

The Stephen King Universe: A Guide to the Worlds of the King of Horror by Stanley Wiater, Christopher Golden and Hank Wagner