Stephen Crane (1871-1900) was born in 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. He was educated at Lafayette College and Syracuse University. In 1891, he got a job as a freelance reporter, writing articles about the slums of New York. Without steady work as a reporter, Crane, himself, was a poor man and lived in The Bowery, New York's worst slum.

This firsthand experience of poverty gave Crane the material he needed for his first novel, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets. It was a tragic story about a young prostitute who commits suicide. Crane used what little money he had to publish the book in 1893, using the pen-name Johnston Smith. Although it was not a commercially successful novel, the book received excellent critical reviews.

In 1895, Crane published his second novel, The Red Badge of Courage. It was a powerful and realistic psychological portrait of a young soldier fighting in the American Civil War. This novel brought Crane international recognition as a great novelist. He was one of the first American writers to work in the style known as Naturalism.

Naturalism portrayed characters who were not in total control of their lives, but rather, were strongly affected by natural forces. These forces could be the internal emotions or personality conflicts of the characters themselves, or they could be external elements like the stormy sea in The Open Boat, or social situations, such as war in The Red Badge of Courage.

Although Crane had never been a soldier himself, he worked as a war correspondent for several American and foreign newspapers. He reported on the war between Greece and Turkey in 1897, as well as on the Spanish-American War, fought between the United States and Spain, in Cuba and the Philippines in 1898.

Just before the Spanish-American war broke out, Crane was shipwrecked while on an expedition to Cuba. This experience is the basis of The Open Boat. The character referred to in the story as the correspondent is most likely Crane himself. Sadly, Crane developed tuberculosis as a result of his weakened condition after the shipwreck. He died in 1900 at the age of 28.

Vocab checkpoint
freelance adjective

To work on a freelance basis, means to work independently of a particular company or organization. A freelance professional may work with different companies at the same time.

steady adjective

Steady means secure and/or reliable. Steady work implies a full time job with a regular salary.

firsthand adjective

Firsthand (all one word) experience, means experience that has happened to a person directly. The person has not learned about the experience from another. Compare this with second-hand (two words with hyphen), which means something, like a car, has been owned by somebody else before the new owner bought it.

tragic adjective

If something is tragic, it is very sad and causes a lot of problems for people who experience it. We often use tragic to describe a person's death, a car crash, a natural disaster (earthquake, volcano, etc). The noun is tragedy.

recognition noun

Recognition, in this example, means being noticed by others and given credit for talent or hard-work. It should not be confused with the mean of recognition that is directly connected to the verb, recognize, which means to remember the face of a person when you see her/him.

portrayed verb

To portray is to represent an image or character, or sequence of events, in writing, theater or film. The noun is portrayal, which should not be confused with portrait, also a noun, which means a painting or photograph of a person's face.

natural forces noun

We use natural forces to describe the power of the elements: air, earth, fire and water. These descriptions are often related to disasters or difficulties caused by these elements. The Open Boat is a story of the struggle of four men against natural forces.

correspondent noun

A Correspondent is a person who is employed by a newspaper, magazine or TV company to provide reports or articles on a regular basis. They often work on a single subject, e.g. war correspondent, sports correspondent.

broke out phrasal verb

To break out is to begin suddenly. Here it means the beginning of a war. It is often used to talk about illness or physical condition (break out in a rash, break out in a sweat). Another common meaning is to escape: break out of jail.

tuberculosis noun

Tuberculosis (often called TB) is a serious disease of the lungs.