S.E. Hinton: Celebrating 50 Years of The Outsiders Staying Gold

Fifty years ago, The Outsiders was first introduced to readers. A young outsider herself, S.E. Hinton wrote about the life she saw and lived as a teenager. She wrote about the passion and the pain involved in finding one’s place, making one’s mark, and staying true to one’s self. And readers responded—then and now. HiresContractINTSince first being published in 1967 by Viking Press, The Outsiders has sold more than 14 million copies making it the bestselling young adult novel.

Hinton was just a 16-year-old student at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when she wrote The Outsiders. But she had been writing for years prior. “I began writing in grade school, eager to make my own stories happen the way I wanted to. I had access to the local library, but my family thought my writing was some weird phase I would outgrow. I had some great English teachers who encouraged me through grade school, middle school, high school. I also made a D in creative writing the year (junior in high school) I wrote The Outsiders.”

“My first memories of reading? I loved it!! I was one of those little girl horse nuts and distinctly remember checking Peanuts the Pony (D.C. Heath and Co., 1941) out of the library. I loved all the horse books, but the book I read over and over again was Duff, The Story of a Bear (Longmans, 1950). I recently re-read it and was very proud of my young self. It’s no Disney bear story!”

Though she wrote The Outsiders as a high school student, it didn’t sell until she was a freshman at the University of Tulsa. Many considered the book and the author immediate sensations, but Hinton takes a more modest approach. “Honestly I did not get much attention and success, it built gradually.”

Hinton went on to complete her education and her student teaching before getting married, starting a family, and settling into a writing career. “I realized early on I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Teachers are my heroes. They have more guts and energy than I’ll ever have. So many are coming up with creative ways to use The Outsiders in the classroom—they have better ideas than I do!”

Eventually The Outsiders was made into a feature film, as were other Hinton novels, and she continued to publish new books as the years passed. Though many of her follow-up works attained success in their own right, nothing has matched the following of The Outsiders. In many classrooms it has been used as required reading. However, the popular book has not been welcomed in every school—a fact that doesn’t bother Hinton too much. “It’s been required much more than it’s been banned. And now grandparents are sharing it with their grandkids. I think the first hostile reaction was to the idea that not all teens were living in a ’50s sitcom. People know better nowadays.”


“Aspiring authors: Read and practice. Worry about the writing, not the publishing. Publishing is changing rapidly. Make sure you have something worth publishing before you try. I was writing constantly for eight years before I wrote The Outsiders. If you’re young, you will have to come up with a book as good as the adults are publishing. Nobody is going to say ‘pretty good for a fourteen-year-old’ and invest in a book. It has to be good.”

In honor of the golden anniversary of The Outsiders, Penguin Random House released a 50th Anniversary Edition in 2016. It not only contains the classic tale, but also bonus material and photographs. “I love the 50th anniversary edition of The Outsiders. By now, I’m not really surprised it still has a following. I was surprised by that on the 20th anniversary. I think everyone identifies with the feeling of being an outsider, even in their own ‘group.’ I wrote it at the right time of life, teens still identify with the strong swings of emotion.”

These days, Hinton continues to write. Her focus has been mostly on screen plays and she has been working on an adult paranormal comedy thriller. Beyond that, the notoriously private author really doesn’t offer many more details other than: “I am so bored with myself that I could live happily ever after with no more questions!”