Alice Sebold was born in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1963 to somewhat emotionally remote, academic parents. She has an older sister called Mary. Her mother suffered from acute anxiety attacks, which the family referred to as ‘flaps’. Her father – an esteemed academic professor with a PhD in Spanish Literature from Princeton – had a successful career which required the family to move several times. After a move to Durham, North Carolina, Sebold's mother began drinking and eventually became a (now reformed) alcoholic.
Sebold graduated from Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in 1980. Although her father taught at the University of Pennsylvania, she was not offered a place there, perhaps to avoid accusations of nepotism. Instead, Sebold went to Syracuse University in upstate New York.
During her first semester at Syracuse University, Alice Sebold was attacked and brutally raped when walking home at night from a student party. Eighteen years old and a virgin before the rape, she felt isolated from her family, friends and social peers, who all struggled to come to terms with what she had gone through. Her attacker was later arrested and found to have committed other similar offences; he was given the maximum sentence. These horrendous experiences formed the basis of Sebold’s autobiographical book, Lucky (2002). Inspiration for the book’s title came from a policeman who, after she reported the rape, told her she was lucky to be alive.
After gaining her Masters, Sebold moved to New York City and took various jobs, including hostessing in a nightclub. She attempted to anaesthetise the pain she still felt with drugs, alcohol and bad relationships. Despite, by her own admission, putting little effort into the application, Sebold obtained a job as a teacher at Hunter College. There, she felt able to relate to her students, many of whom were from minorities and had endured similar hardships of violence and abuse.
After living in New York for ten years, Sebold moved to California. She took a job as caretaker of the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, earning $386 a month and living in a remote cabin in the woods without electricity. There she befriended an elderly Vietnam veteran who shared some of his traumatic wartime experiences with her and described the effects these later had upon him. Sebold came to recognise in herself what he described as post traumatic stress disorder; her own experiences are referenced in a psychology book called Trauma And Recovery by Dr. Judith Lewis Herman.
When this job came to an end, Sebold applied to graduate school at the University of California, Irvine to study creative writing. There she began experimenting more with her own writing. Although she tried to write about her rape experience, she was unable to achieve what she wanted: "I wrote tons of bad poetry about it and a couple of bad novels about it – lots of bad stuff." At Irvine, Sebold met Glen David Gold, the author of Carter Beats The Devil. They married in November 2001, and live together in California.
At the age of 33, Sebold began writing a novel about the rape and murder of a 14 year old girl named Susie. Soon she felt compelled to put this novel on hold while she wrote Lucky:
As weird as this sounds, I think that after writing the first chapter of Lovely Bones, in which Susie is raped and killed, there was some urging on Susie's part that I get my own business out of the way before writing further into her story. When I say "on Susie's part" I mean: the demands of her wanting to tell her story and using me to do so meant that I had to unload my story someplace else. It wasn't going to fit into the book I wanted to write for her.
After publishing Lucky, Sebold went on to complete the novel she had put to one side. The Lovely Bones (2002) was received with phenomenal critical acclaim and sold over one million copies, reaching #1 on the New York Times bestseller list as well as many others around the world. It was adapted for film by Peter Jackson in 2009.
Sebold’s latest novel, The Almost Moon (2007), tells the story of Helen, a middle-aged woman who kills her elderly mother.
The official film website and trailer can be viewed here.