Alice Sebold

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Alice Sebold
Alice Sebold 1 by David Shankbone.jpg
Born (1963-09-06) September 6, 1963 (age 59)
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
EducationSyracuse University (BA)
University of Houston
University of California, Irvine (MFA)
GenreLiterary fiction, memoir
Notable works
(m. 2001; div. 2012)

Alice Sebold (born September 6, 1963) is an American author. She is known for her novels The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon, and a memoir, Lucky. The Lovely Bones was on The New York Times Best Seller list and was adapted into a film by the same name in 2010. Her memoir, Lucky, sold over a million copies and describes her experience in her first year at Syracuse University, when she was raped. Anthony Broadwater, who was incorrectly identified as the perpetrator by Sebold (and via a faulty method of hair analysis), ultimately served 16 years in prison. He was exonerated in 2021, after a judge found serious issues with the original conviction.

Early life and education[edit]

Sebold was born in Madison, Wisconsin.[1] She grew up in the Paoli suburb of Philadelphia, where her father taught Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania.[2] While they were young, Sebold and her older sister, Mary, often had to take care of their mother, a journalist for a local paper, who suffered from panic attacks and drank heavily.[1]

Sebold graduated from Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in 1980. Sebold attended Syracuse University, where she earned her bachelor's degree. Among her professors was Tess Gallagher, who became one of Sebold's confidantes.[3] Also among her professors were Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and Hayden Carruth.[4]

After graduating in 1984, she briefly attended the University of Houston in Texas, for graduate school, then moved to Manhattan for the next 10 years.[5] She held several waitressing jobs while pursuing a writing career, but neither her poetry nor her attempts at writing a novel came to fruition.[6]

Sebold left New York for Southern California, where she became a caretaker of an artists' colony, earning $386 a month and living in a cabin in the woods without electricity.[2] She earned an MFA from the University of California, Irvine in 1998.[5]

Rape and writing of Lucky[edit]

In the early hours of May 8, 1981, while Sebold was a freshman at Syracuse University, she was assaulted and raped while walking home along a pathway that passed a tunnel to an amphitheater near campus. She reported the crime to campus security and the police, who took her statement and investigated, but could not identify any suspects.[2][7] Five months later, while walking down a street near the Syracuse campus, she encountered a man whom she believed to be the rapist.[7][8] The man, Anthony Broadwater, ultimately served 16 years in prison, maintaining his innocence throughout.[8] Because he would not admit to the attack, he was denied parole five times.[8] Broadwater was released in 1999, and remained on New York's sex offender registry, before ultimately being exonerated in 2021.[9]

Writing of Lucky[edit]

After the rape, Sebold was traumatized and struggled to make sense of life for at least ten years.[2] In 1996 or 1997, she began writing a novel about the rape and murder of an adolescent girl. The interim title was Monsters.[1] She found herself struggling to finish it, and abandoned several other novels she had also started.[10] Eventually, she realized she needed to write about the rape and its impact on her first.[2]

Lucky was published in 1999, in which she described every aspect of the rape in graphic detail. She used the fictitious name "Gregory Madison" for Broadwater.[2][7] The title of her memoir stemmed from a conversation with a police officer who told her that another woman had been raped and murdered in the same location, and that Sebold was "lucky" because she hadn't been killed.[11] Sebold wrote that the attack made her feel isolated from her family, and that for years afterwards, she experienced hypervigilance. She resigned her night job, fearing danger in darkness. She was depressed, suffered from nightmares, drank heavily and snorted heroin for three years. Eventually, after reading Judith Lewis Herman's Trauma and Recovery, she realized she had developed post-traumatic stress disorder.[12]

According to one reviewer, Lucky was positively reviewed and then "sank into oblivion".[13] After Sebold became successful with her 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones, interest in the memoir picked up and it went on to sell over one million copies.[14]

Exoneration of Broadwater[edit]

Broadwater tried five times to have the conviction overturned, with at least as many groups of lawyers.[8] When Timothy Mucciante began working as executive producer on a project to adapt Lucky to film, he noticed discrepancies in the portion of her book describing the trial. He later told The New York Times: "I started having some doubts—not about the story that Alice told about her assault, which was tragic, but the second part of her book about the trial, which didn’t hang together".[7] He ultimately was fired from the project when he did not provide funding as he had originally agreed, and subsequently hired a private investigator to review the evidence against Broadwater.[7][15]

In November 2021, Broadwater was exonerated by a New York Supreme Court justice, who determined there had been serious issues with the original conviction. The conviction had relied heavily on two pieces of evidence: Sebold's testimony and microscopic hair analysis, a forensic technique the United States Department of Justice later found to be unreliable.[16][17]

At the police lineup, which included Broadwater, Sebold had identified a different person as her rapist. When police told her she had identified someone other than Broadwater, she said the two men looked "almost identical".[16] Defense attorneys arguing for Broadwater's exoneration asserted that, after the lineup, the prosecutor lied to Sebold, telling her that the man she had identified and Broadwater were friends, and that they both came to the lineup to confuse her.[7] They also stated that Sebold wrote in Lucky that the prosecutor coached her into changing her identification.[8] In 2021, Broadwater's new attorneys argued that this influenced Sebold's testimony.[7] Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick, who joined the motion to overturn the conviction, argued that suspect identification is prone to error, particularly when the suspect is a different race from the victim; Sebold is white and Broadwater is black.[7]

After his exoneration, Broadwater said: "I'm not bitter or have malice towards her."[18] A week later, Sebold publicly apologized for her part in his conviction, saying she was struggling "with the role that I unwittingly played within a system that sent an innocent man to jail" and that Broadwater "became another young Black man brutalized by our flawed legal system. I will forever be sorry for what was done to him."[9] Scribner, the publisher of Lucky, released a statement following Broadwater's exoneration that distribution of all formats of the book would cease while Sebold and the publisher determined how to revise the work.[19]

The Lovely Bones[edit]

Once Lucky was finished, Sebold was able to complete her novel, Monsters. She sent the manuscript to her mentor, Wilton Barnhardt,[1] who passed it to his agent. The work was eventually published as The Lovely Bones in 2002. It is the story of a teenage girl who is raped and murdered at age 14. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Sebold said, "I was motivated to write about violence because I believe it's not unusual. I see it as just a part of life, and I think we get in trouble when we separate people who've experienced it from those who haven't. Though it's a horrible experience, it's not as if violence hasn't affected many of us."[20]

A reviewer for the Houston Chronicle described the novel as "a disturbing story, full of horror and confusion and deep, bone-weary sadness. And yet it reflects a moving, passionate interest in and love for ordinary life at its most wonderful, and most awful, even at its most mundane."[1] A reviewer for The New York Times wrote that Sebold had "the ability to capture both the ordinary and the extraordinary, the banal and the horrific, in lyrical, unsentimental prose".[1] The Lovely Bones remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for over one year[21] and by 2007, had sold over ten million copies worldwide.[22]

In 2010, it was adapted into a film of the same name by Peter Jackson, starring Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg, and Rachel Weisz.[23]

Other writing[edit]

Sebold's second novel, The Almost Moon, describes an art class model who murders her mother. It begins with the sentence: “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily” and continues a key theme of her two other books in describing acts of violence. Sebold uses the killing as the starting point from which to examine dysfunctional relationships between parents and their daughters.[24] The book received mixed reviews.[25][24]

Sebold guest-edited The Best American Short Stories 2009.[26]

Awards and recognition[edit]

The Lovely Bones won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel and the Heartland Prize in 2002,[27][28] and the American Booksellers Association's Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction in 2003.[29] Sebold held MacDowell fellowships in 2000, 2005, and 2009.[30] In 2016, Emerson College awarded Sebold with an honorary degree.[31]

Personal life[edit]

In 2001, Sebold married the novelist Glen David Gold;[1] the couple divorced in 2012.[32]


  • Lucky (memoir, 1999), Scribner, ISBN 0-684-85782-0
  • The Lovely Bones (novel, 2002), Little, Brown, ISBN 0-316-66634-3
  • The Almost Moon (novel, 2007), Little, Brown, ISBN 0-316-67746-9


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Glaug, Natalie C. (Spring 2008). "Alice Sebold". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Pennsylvania State University. Archived from the original on August 5, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f McCrum, Robert (October 14, 2007). "Adventures in disturbia". The Observer. London, England: Guardian Media Group. Archived from the original on January 16, 2008. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  3. ^ Sebold, Alice (October 10, 2006). "The World Meets Alice Sebold" (Interview). Interviewed by Dave. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  4. ^ McLellan, Dennis (September 15, 1999). "Memoir Frees Writer From Dark Days of Her Past". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 29, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Sebold, Alice (Fall 2007). "Beyond Death: A Conversation with Alice Sebold" (Interview). Interviewed by Becky Jo Gesteland McShane. Weber State University. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  6. ^ Viner, Katharine (August 23, 2002). "Above and beyond". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 9, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Zraick, Karen; Alter, Alexandra (November 23, 2021). "Man Is Exonerated in Rape Case Described in Alice Sebold's Memoir". The New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ a b c d e Westhoff, Kiely; Waldrop, Theresa (November 25, 2021). "He spent years in prison for the rape of author Alice Sebold, the subject of her memoir, 'Lucky.' A judge just exonerated him". CNN. Retrieved November 29, 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ a b Matthews, Karen (November 30, 2021). "Author Alice Sebold apologizes to man cleared in 1981 rape". The Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 30, 2021. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  10. ^ La Rocco, Claudia (August 17, 2002). "With success, a changing world for Alice Sebold". Arizona Daily Sun. Archived from the original on November 29, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  11. ^ Patterson, Christina (November 25, 2021). "The real villain in Alice Sebold's tragic tale has yet to be caught". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  12. ^ Chamallas, Martha (Spring 2005). "Lucky: The Sequel". Indiana Law Journal. 80 (2). ISSN 0019-6665.
  13. ^ "Alice Sebold: Rape and redemption". The Independent. June 5, 2003. Archived from the original on June 7, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  14. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (November 25, 2021). "Alice Sebold Memoir Adaptation 'Lucky' Dropped After Losing Financing (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Archived from the original on November 25, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  15. ^ "Op-Ed: My work on Alice Sebold's 'Lucky' helped get a wrongful rape conviction overturned". Los Angeles Times. December 2, 2021. Archived from the original on December 2, 2021. Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  16. ^ a b Matthews, Karen (November 23, 2021). "Conviction overturned in 1981 rape of author Alice Sebold". The Associated Press. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  17. ^ Dowty, Douglass; Knauss, Tim (January 25, 2022). "The untold story of how race and incompetence doomed Anthony Broadwater to prison for Alice Sebold's rape". The Post-Standard. Retrieved January 25, 2022.
  18. ^ Waldrop, Theresa; Westhoff, Kiely (November 30, 2021). "Alice Sebold apologizes to exonerated man who spent years in prison for her rape". CNN. Archived from the original on December 1, 2021. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  19. ^ D'Zurilla, Christie (November 30, 2021). "Alice Sebold's memoir, 'Lucky,' pulled as she apologizes to man wrongly convicted of her rape". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 30, 2021. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  20. ^ Darby, Ann (June 17, 2002). "PW Talks with Alice Sebold". Publishers Weekly. Reed Business Information. Archived from the original on December 20, 2007. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
  21. ^ Hadadi, Roxana (January 13, 2010). "Special Effects: Three Cinematic Scenes From 'The Lovely Bones'". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  22. ^ Gorman, Steve (May 4, 2007). "DreamWorks teams with Jackson for "Lovely Bones"". Reuters. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  23. ^ Harris, Chris (November 24, 2021). "Man Convicted of Raping The Lovely Bones Author Alice Sebold Exonerated 39 Years Later". People. Archived from the original on November 24, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  24. ^ a b Siegel, Lee (October 21, 2007). "Mom's in the Freezer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  25. ^ "The Almost Moon". The New Yorker. October 8, 2007. Archived from the original on September 17, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  26. ^ Sebold, Alice (2009). "Eyes on the Prize". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  27. ^ "Past Stoker Nominees & Winners". Horror Writers Association. 2007. Archived from the original on January 13, 2008. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
  28. ^ "Heartland Prizes". The Chicago Tribune. October 27, 2002. Archived from the original on November 30, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  29. ^ "The Book Sense Book of the Year". BookWeb. American Booksellers Association. Archived from the original on December 24, 2007. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
  30. ^ "Alice Sebold - Artist". MacDowell. Archived from the original on July 20, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  31. ^ Carlson, Eryn (May 9, 2016). "Emerson honors Alice Sebold, Juan Gonzalez, Danielle Legros Georges". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on November 29, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  32. ^ Zack, Jessica (July 24, 2018). "Novelist Glen David Gold walks a fine line examining his own unusual childhood". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on July 25, 2018. Retrieved November 29, 2021.

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