Sebold in New York City, October 2007
|Born||September 6, 1963|
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Alma mater||Syracuse University|
|Genre||Literary fiction, memoir|
|Notable works||The Lovely Bones, The Almost Moon, Lucky|
Sebold was born in Madison, Wisconsin. She grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where her father taught Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania. Sebold graduated from Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in 1980.
In the early hours of May 8, 1981, while Sebold was a freshman at Syracuse University, she was assaulted and raped while walking home through a park near campus. She reported the crime to the police, who took her statement and investigated, but could not identify any suspects.
Sebold returned home to Pennsylvania for the summer before returning to Syracuse University to finish her bachelor's degree and study writing. On October 5, 1981, while walking down a street near the Syracuse campus, she recognized her rapist. She notified police, who were able to capture the man, and she testified against the rapist in court; he was convicted of rape and sodomy, and sentenced to eight to 25 years in prison. Her attacker is out of prison now, but Sebold says she has not kept track of his whereabouts.
After graduating from Syracuse in 1984, Sebold briefly attended the University of Houston in Texas, for graduate school, then moved to Manhattan for the next 10 years. She held several waitressing jobs while pursuing a writing career, but neither her poetry nor her attempts at writing a novel came to fruition. She also began using heroin recreationally. Sebold recounted her substance abuse to students at an Evening of Fiction workshop by saying: "I did a lot of things that I am not particularly proud of and that I can't believe that I did."
Sebold left New York for Southern California, where she became a caretaker of an artists' colony, earning $386 a month and living in a cabin in the woods without electricity. She ultimately obtained an MFA from the University of California, Irvine in 1998.
In New York, Sebold began writing the book that would become Lucky, as a 10-page assignment for her class. The book's title came from a policeman who had told Sebold that she was lucky to be alive, since another young woman had been killed and dismembered in the same tunnel.
At the age of 33, Sebold began writing a novel called Monsters, about the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl. The story was based on her realization that "within the suburban world of my upbringing there was as many strange stories as there were in the more romanticized parts of the world." The novel eventually became The Lovely Bones, which one reviewer called "a disturbing story, full of horror and confusion and deep, bone-weary sadness. And yet it reflects a moving, passionate interest in and love for ordinary life as its most wonderful, and most awful, even at its most mundane." The New York Times observed that "Ms. Sebold [has] the ability to capture both the ordinary and the extraordinary, the banal and the horrific, in lyrical, unsentimental prose."
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Sebold said, "I was motivated to write about violence because I believe it's not unusual. I see it as just a part of life, and I think we get in trouble when we separate people who've experienced it from those who haven't. Though it's a horrible experience, it's not as if violence hasn't affected many of us."The Lovely Bones remained on The New York Times Bestseller list for over one year and was adapted into a 2010 film of the same name by Peter Jackson starring Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, Susan Sarandon as Grandma Lynn, Stanley Tucci as George Harvey, Mark Wahlberg as Jack Salmon, and Rachel Weisz as Abigail Salmon.
Sebold won the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction in 2003The Lovely Bones and the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel in 2002. Sebold was a fellow at the Ragdale Foundation and at the MacDowell Colony.