The Softer Side Of Stephen King

A look at the King of Horror’s philanthropic work.

IT comes out this week. Get your tickets here! And make sure you also get a copy of our amazing Stephen King issue of BMD!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Stephen King embodies horror and his name is synonymous with terror. A best-selling author multiple times over, King’s books have sold over 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into films, miniseries, and television shows. His striking ability to portray the spectrum of human emotion and experience led him to publish fifty-four novels and over two hundred short stories that continue to disturb audiences daily and supply nightmares, as they have done for decades. Known for his innate ability to scare readers worldwide, many are unaware of his personal passions, philanthropic work, and charitable contributions. King says it best himself: “People must think I am a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.” 

Founded in 1986 along with his wife, the same year IT was published, the Stephen King and Tabitha Foundation supplies over $2.8 million in grants every year. Education is the Foundation’s primary focus as a way to give back to the communities of Maine. Maine is a central feature in King’s work, and nearly every piece of his literature takes place in or alludes to various fictional towns within the state including Derry, Castle Rock, and Haven. The grant money has been used for building repairs, upgraded computer equipment, and purchasing e-readers. A $3 million donation was given to the Bangor Public Library in 2013; and thanks to the Kings, the library became completely handicap accessible.

The Kings’ zeal for writing is deeply embedded in their charitable causes and their family. The two literary lovebirds met while attending the University of Maine, specifically in the campus library. Their sons Owen and Joseph King (pen name Joe Hill) are also authors following in their parents’ skillful footsteps. It’s also no coincidence that several of King’s primary protagonists are writers exhibited in works such as IT, Misery, and The Shining. When his love of writing was temporarily halted due to a devastating car accident in 1999, it took ten months before he was able to work again. King’s injury from the event, along with friend and audio narrator, Frank Muller, who was put out of work due to a motorcycle accident, inspired King to launch the Wavedancer Foundation which later transitioned into the Haven Foundation. In order to obtain the funds, King utilized the royalties from his book, Blaze, and organized a public reading with fellow authors including John Grisham, Peter Straub, and Pat Conroy. Haven’s mission is to help authors, artists, and freelancers during periods of time in which they are unable to work due to injury or illness. Additionally, Haven assists with those who have lost their homes to due to natural disasters, fires, and other catastrophic events.

Baseball is a lesser known passion of King’s and one that he not only writes about, but also support in his local community. A devout Boston Red Sox fan, King has co-authored a book about the Sox’s 2004 World Series victory and mentions baseball in lesser known works such as The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Blockade Billy. Behind King’s home in Bangor, Maine, sits Mansfield Stadium which was built from King’s funding of $1.2 million and named after Shawn Mansfield who lost his fight with cerebral palsy before he had a chance to play the game. King made the field entirely handicap accessible and even spent time coaching his son’s team.

Civil service and politics also remain on King’s radar for opportunities to give back. In 2009, a division of the Maine Army National Guard was stationed for training in Indiana before deployment to Afghanistan in January. Despite having time off for the Christmas holiday, they didn’t possess funds to return home. So, Stephen and Tabitha donated $12,999 of the requested $13,000, while King’s assistant donated the remaining $1 since he openly suffers from triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number thirteen). Stephen and Tabby have extended grants to various fire departments across the entire state of Maine to provide funding for new uniforms and equipment while also regularly contributing to various hospitals.

In fact, nurses used to sneak King into the Eastern Maine Medical Center in order to read to the kids. His foundation matched money raised by the community to restore the 8th floor while also installing a large fish tank that apparently helped reduce the usage of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Close by, the Ronald McDonald House was erected to provide a place for parents to stay while their children were receiving long-term care. His medical contributions were distributed to several other hospitals across the state and also included charitable funding to the Red Cross and Planned Parenthood of New England.

It’s worth noting that King is a self-made man. He didn’t grow up with a silver spoon or even a television. As a result, he became a voracious reader and wrote stories to entertain himself beginning when he was six years old. Writing is an escape and his passions permeate the pages while enhancing character depth unlike any other. He’s battled poverty, addiction, and abandonment which has enabled him to see the jagged jaws of life’s cruelty from several angles. Those are the real monsters. While he entertains us with menacing clowns, rabid dogs, and haunted hotels, it’s the deeper human experience and internal emotional gradient that truly causes terror but can conversely and oddly enough, generate empathy as well. 

Despite crafting fear with creative storytelling, he manages to stay level-headed by answering fan mail, shaking fans' hands when he meets them, driving cross country on a motorcycle to only independent bookstores, and always giving back to those in his home state who are in need. He may have the heart of a small boy in a jar on his desk, but that heart is made of gold and the lives of his fans and fellow residents of Maine can put their monsters to rest thanks to him and Tabitha. 

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