Author, poet and journalist
Born: November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey
Died: June 5, 1900, in Badenweiler, Germany
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2019-20: Arts & Letters
Although Stephen Crane was born six years after the end of the Civil War and never personally experienced combat, his novel “The Red Badge of Courage,” published in 1895, was in its day considered the most authentic depiction of the brutality of the War Between the States.
Crane was the 14th child of a writer/suffragist mother and Methodist minister father. He attended Lafayette College and Syracuse University, but quit school to become a fulltime writer. Living for a period with a brother in Paterson, he commuted to New York City to find stories. He was especially drawn to the city’s impoverished districts, particularly the Bowery, with its saloons, brothels and flophouses. The New York Tribune published some of his early work about the city, as well as news reports from Asbury Park, where he previously had lived with another brother, a professional journalist.
By the time he was 21, Crane was living in a Manhattan boarding house and had written his first novel, “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” about an abused slum girl’s descent into prostitution. Unable to find a publisher for the shockingly graphic work, he published the book under a pseudonym at his own expense.
Crane struggled as a freelance writer until “The Red Badge of Courage” brought him instant fame. The novel is told through the eyes of a young private whose initial enthusiasm about soldiering dissolves into fear and cowardice amid the horrors of the battlefield. Heralded as ground-breaking in its realism, the novel opened the door for Crane’s subsequent endeavors as a war correspondent.
In early 1897, he set out on a ship from Florida to cover an insurrection in a Cuba. Through a series of calamities, the ship sank and Crane desperately rowed to safety in a dinghy with three other men. From this misadventure, Crane hatched his classic short story “The Open Boat.”
Eager to earn his stripes as a war correspondent, Crane took an assignment from the New York Journal to cover a budding conflict between Greece and Turkey. He later covered the Spanish-American War, going ashore with the Marines under fire at Guantanamo Bay.
Although Crane was considered one of the leading writers of his day, his extravagant lifestyle and strenuous travels left him facing debt and frequent illness, including recurrent malarial fever, which he contracted in Cuba. He was just 28 when he died of tuberculosis in a sanitorium in Germany.
Negative reviews of Crane’s later novels eroded his reputation after the triumph of “Red Badge of Courage.” He had greater success with his short stories, several of which remain classics and are frequently anthologized. Despite his brief career, Crane is widely recognized as a major influence on 20th century American writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Dreiser.