Author Spotlight: Alice Sebold

One of the best ways to deal with pain is through art. American author Alice Sebold has managed to do just that. Through her novels, she has managed to share her story and come out as the victor of a harrowing circumstance.

Sebold was born in Wisconsin but raised in Pennsylvannia. At an early age, she was faced with deep trauma after being raped as a freshman at Syracuse University. Nevertheless, Sebold persisted and finished college at Syracuse. Then she pursued higher studies at the University of Houston but never finished and instead moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in writing.

As is the case with many writers, Sebold did not immediately achieve fame or fortune. She worked as a waitress while writing, but her lack of success caused her to go into a downward spiral to the point that she started using recreational drugs. After ten years in New York, Sebold migrated west to start anew. She started working as a caretaker of an artists’ colony in Southern California, where she lived in a cabin in the woods with no electricity. In 1998, she obtained an MFA from the University of California, Irvine.

Sebold’s first book, a memoir titled Lucky, started as a class assignment. It was intended to be a fictionalized account of her rape and what happened after, but while in graduate school, she decided to turn the novel into a memoir. The title of the book came from a policeman who had told her that she was “lucky to be alive” because another young woman had been killed in the same location where she was raped.

Her second book became her first novel, The Lovely Bones. The novel is about a fourteen-year-old girl named Susie Salmon, a rape and murder victim who witnesses the investigation of her disappearance as a spirit living in an afterlife version of the suburb where she grew up. The novel also takes on the perspectives of her family members, who refuse to believe that she is dead. The book was lauded by critics, who mainly cited the tone of innocence that the book has in contrast to its very dark subject matter. Sebold also revealed that the story was inspired by strange, romanticized ones in some parts of the world. In 2009, the book was adapted into a film starring Saoirse Ronan as Susie.

Her third book, The Almost Moon, strays away from the topic of rape but is equally dark and still brings light to an important issue. The novel is about a woman named Helen Knightly who spontaneously suffocates her mother, suffering from dementia, to death. After the deed is done, Knightly feels a sort of sense of relief now that the woman she has constantly failed to please is already dead. She recounts her life thus far over the next twenty-four hours before finally realizing the potential repercussions of her actions. This leads to her trying to cover up the crime and asking help from her ex-husband.

Sebold has made a name for herself with her seemingly poetic style that she combines with dark themes such as rape, violence, and murder. Through her work, Sebold aims to raise awareness toward rape and to remove the taboo associated with certain topics. She noted that many people have similar stories but are not able to tell them because of the negativity attached to them.

Sebold has won several awards, including the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year in 2003 and the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel in 2002. She also guest-edited The Best American Short Stories 2009. Currently, she lives in San Francisco with her husband.

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