Tulsa author S.E. Hinton recounted the story of writing her coming-of-age novel, “The Outsiders,” and its legacy Saturday afternoon to a crowd of over 200 people celebrating the book’s 50th anniversary.
The book’s semicentennial included a question-and-answer session with Hinton, as well as a book signing and movie screening at Circle Cinema. The event was hosted by Booksmart Tulsa.
An estimated 500 people attended some part of the celebration, said Jeff Martin, Booksmart Tulsa founder and event organizer.
Hinton, 68, wrote the young-adult novel when she was 16 years old and attending Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School. The book was published in 1967 and has since sold more than 15 million copies and was adapted into a film.
The book was one of the first to be tailored specifically for young adults, which is now one of the publishing industry’s most popular genres,
During the talk, Hinton discussed what it was like writing the book as a teenager, her relationship with the then mostly unknown superstars-to-be who acted in the 1983 movie adaptation and how it feels to know her book has had an impact on so many lives.
She also told some jokes, like the story of how her then-boyfriend and current-husband tried to coax her into writing again when she couldn’t after finishing “The Outsiders.”
He had asked her to write two pages a day, and she felt paralyzed.
“’No one’s ever dropped dead of two pages a day’,” she recalled him saying. “Which is spoken like a true non-writer.”
The talk was moderated by University of Tulsa film studies professor Jeff Van Hanken.
Hinton said she based the book on her high school experiences, though not necessarily her personal experiences. While she knew Greasers and Socs, the warring social groups in her novel, she said she refused to accept either label.
“There are people who do things and people who watch, and I’m a watcher. I’m an observer, and I watched all this happen, and I was getting very angry about it,” Hinton said.
Fifty years since the book was published, Hinton said she receives two types of fan responses: one from people who have never read before and now do because of her book, and the other from people who say her book has changed or saved their lives.
She still hasn’t grown accustomed to that, she said, adding it is overwhelming.
“The way I deal with it is ‘The Outsiders’ was meant to be written, and I got picked to write it. It’s supposed to be out there, and I got to be the messenger. So it’s the message — not the messenger — that saved your life,” Hinton said. “Not me.”
That answer received loud applause from the audience.
The message Hinton alluded to was one of acceptance and understanding.
That’s why Spiro Public Schools high school English teacher Kasandra Lovell, who attended the event, has been teaching the book to her students for over 20 years.
“It kind of shows you that we all have some feelings of insecurity, and that everybody is important and valuable, and we all go through some hard times, but we all see that same sunset, you know, and things are rough all over for everybody,” Lovell said.
Those are timeless themes, Martin said, and are part of why it still resonates with new readers.
When 33-year-old Emily Quinn first read “The Outsiders” she was in middle school, and she said it helped her reckon with feelings that she didn’t fit in.
“It opened the world a little bit for you to be able to know that those things are happening in other places,” Quinn said.