Stephen King was born September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. His father, Donald Edwin King, was a merchant seaman. Donald was born under the surname Pollock, but as an adult, used the surname King. King's mother was Nellie Ruth (née Pillsbury).
When Stephen King was two years old, his father left the family. King's mother raised Stephen and his older brother, David, by herself, sometimes under great financial strain. The family moved to De Pere, Wisconsin; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Stratford, Connecticut. When King was 11, his family returned to Durham, Maine, where his mother cared for her parents until their deaths. She then became a caregiver in a local residential facility for the mentally challenged. King was raised Methodist but lost his belief in organized religion while in high school. While no longer religious, King chooses to believe in the existence of God.
As a child, King apparently witnessed one of his friends being struck and killed by a train, though he has no memory of the event. His family told him that after leaving home to play with the boy, King returned, speechless and seemingly in shock. Only later did the family learn of the friend's death. Some commentators have suggested that this event may have psychologically inspired some of King's darker works, but King makes no mention of it in his memoir On Writing (2000).
King related in detail his primary inspiration for writing horror fiction in his non-fiction Danse Macabre (1981), in a chapter titled "An Annoying Autobiographical Pause." King compares his uncle's dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. That inspiration occurred while browsing through an attic with his elder brother, when King uncovered a paperback version of an H. P. Lovecraft collection of short stories he remembers as The Lurker in the Shadows, that had belonged to his father. King told Barnes & Noble Studios during a 2009 interview, "I knew that I'd found home when I read that book."
King attended Durham Elementary School and graduated from Lisbon Falls High School, in Lisbon Falls, Maine in 1966. He displayed an early interest in horror as an avid reader of EC's horror comics, including Tales from the Crypt (he later paid tribute to the comics in his screenplay for Creepshow). He began writing for fun while still in school, contributing articles to Dave's Rag, the newspaper his brother published with a mimeograph machine, and later began selling to his friends stories based on movies he had seen (though when discovered by his teachers, he was forced to return the profits). The first of his stories to be independently published was "I Was a Teenage Grave Robber"; it was serialized over four issues (three published and one unpublished) of a fanzine, Comics Review, in 1965. That story was published the following year in a revised form as "In a Half-World of Terror" in another fanzine, Stories of Suspense, edited by Marv Wolfman. As a teen, King also won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award.
From 1966, King studied at the University of Maine, graduating in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. That year, his daughter Naomi Rachel was born. He wrote a column, Steve King's Garbage Truck, for the student newspaper, The Maine Campus, and participated in a writing workshop organized by Burton Hatlen. King held a variety of jobs to pay for his studies, including janitor, gas pump attendant, and worker at an industrial laundry. King met his future wife, fellow student Tabitha Spruce, at the University's Fogler Library after one of Professor Hatlen's workshops; they wed in 1971.