On this day, Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, is born.
Crane, the youngest of 14 children, was born in 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. His father died when Crane was 9, and the family later settled in Asbury Park, New Jersey. At Syracuse University, Crane played baseball for a year before dropping out to become a journalist in New York City. He worked briefly for several newspapers and scraped by in near poverty.
While struggling to make a living, Crane closely observed the characters around him. In 1893, at age 23, he published Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, about a poor girl’s decline into prostitution and suicide. Finding a publisher was difficult given the book’s scandalous content, so Crane ultimately published it himself. The book was a critical success but failed to sell well. He turned his attention to more popular topics and wrote The Red Badge of Courage (1895). The book was serialized by a newspaper syndicate, and Crane became an international celebrity at age 24.
After the novel’s success, the newspaper syndicate sent Crane to cover the West and Mexico. In 1897, he went to Cuba to write about the insurrection against Spain. On the way there, he stayed at a dingy hotel where he met Cora Howard Taylor, who became his lifelong companion. In 1897, his boat to Cuba sank, and he barely survived. His short story “The Open Boat” is based on his experiences in a lifeboat with the captain and cook. Crane later covered the war between Greece and Turkey, and settled in England, where he made friends with Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, and Henry James.
Crane contracted tuberculosis in his late 20s. Cora Howard Taylor nursed him while he wrote furiously in an attempt to pay off his debts. He exhausted himself and exacerbated his condition. He died in June 1900, at the age of 28.