Stephen Crane was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1871, the youngest of 14 children. His father, a methodist minister, died in 1880 and he was raised by a devout mother and one of his elder sisters. He attended Claverack College in New York State for two years, Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and later Syracuse University in New York State. He left in 1891 and after briefly living with one of his brothers in New Jersey, moved to New York City in an attempt to develop a literary career. Here he lived a bohemian life among young artists and writers in the run-down Bowery area of the city.
In 1893 at the age of 22 he published under a pseudonym his first novel Maggie, A Girl of the Street, a study of an abused slum girl’s descent into poverty, but it was his novel The Red Badge of Courage, set in the American Civil War, which won him national acclaim and has become an American classic. Soon afterwards he published the poetry collection Black Riders and Other Lines followed by the novel The Third Violet. In 1896 he travelled to Cuba as a war correspondent but the vessel in which he was travelling sank off the coast of Florida leaving him and several others adrift in a dinghy. This ordeal he described in a short story, The Open Boat. He went to Cuba again in 1898 to report on the Spanish American War.
As a war correspondent he covered the conflict in Greece accompanied by his lover, Cora Taylor, a former brothel keeper and fellow war correspondent still legally married to her second husband, a British army officer. He had fallen in love with her in Florida in 1896 and later lived with her in Surrey, England, where they socialised with the literary elite and entertained lavishly. Living well beyond their means, they ran up huge debts. He suffered from poor health in the last few years of his life and died at a sanatorium in Germany in 1900 at the age of 28 with Cora at his side. Following Crane’s death, Cora returned to Jacksonville, Florida.
In addition to novels and poetry, Crane also wrote short stories, including The Blue Hotel and The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky. He wrote over a hundred poems, the best known of which are The Wayfarer, War is Kind, and Fast Rode the Knight. He was a great stylist and a master of the contradictory effect, contrasting hope with despair and illusion with reality.