Catching Fire : Biography
Award-winning novelist and screenwriter Suzanne Collins was born on August 10, 1962, in Hartford, Connecticut, the youngest of four children. The family moved often because her father was an Air Force officer, and Collins lived briefly in diverse locations such as Brussels, Belgium, and New York City before settling down in Alabama. Collins graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts in 1980 and then studied at Indiana University, finishing a bachelor’s degree in theater and telecommunications in 1985. She then attended graduate school at New York University, earning a master’s degree in dramatic writing and setting herself up for a career in writing.
That career began when Collins started writing for children’s television programming, working on such shows as Nickelodeon’s Little Bear and Oswald. Her work brought her to the attention of James Proimos, children’s book author and illustrator who, at that time, was also director and creator of the children’s program Generation O! He admired Collins’ writing and not only hired her as head writer for the show but also encouraged her to write books for young readers as well. Collins acknowledged Proimos’ influence in her career by dedicating The Hunger Games to him and writing, in the acknowledgements that follow the end of Mockingjay, how grateful she is for his “advice, perspective, and laughter.”
Collins’ first full-length novel for young readers, Gregor the Overlander, debuted in 2003 and became the first book in The Underland Chronicles, a series of five books that tell the adventures of a New York City boy, Gregor, who discovers that an entire, and entirely magical, world exists below the city. The successful and imaginative series is especially popular among young readers, some of whom produce fan fiction and illustration inspired by the books; but it was The Hunger Games trilogy that transformed Collins from a writer into a celebrity writer.
The premise for the best-selling The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009), and Mockingjay (2010), occurred to Collins while she was watching late-night television and glimpsed, as she channel-surfed, a reality TV show and coverage of the Iraq war in quick succession. She recalls wondering whether viewers are “becoming desensitized to the entire experience” of constant programming and overwhelming infotainment. The trilogy is influenced, too, by her interest in the subject of war, a subject that her father often discussed with his children. Collins has written that her father, who taught history and often took his children to historic battlefields and monuments, “felt a great responsibility and urgency about educating his children about war.” She has argued that sheltering young people from the reality of war prevents discussions that might “lead to more solutions” and that young people are aware of, and “capable of understanding and processing,” the causes and results of war.
Knowing that Collins has thought these issues through helps readers consider the question of the appropriateness of a story arc that involves children as young as twelve forced to kill each other brutally to entertain an elite population and to ensure the continued oppression of the children’s communities. And in fact, even in the Gregor books, written for a younger audience than that of The Hunger Games, Collins does not shy away from dealing with difficult topics: Self-sacrifice for the sake of a greater good or of a beloved person, betrayal by trusted friends, oppression of the weak by the powerful, and the death of allies and friends are themes in The Underland Chronicles as well as in The Hunger Games. Yet these subjects have raised some parental eyebrows. Especially after the first movie came out, prompting many teens who had not read the books to rush to the nearest library or bookstore, websites with titles like “Should I let my kid read The Hunger Games?” proliferated, and self-appointed watchdog groups began to post critiques and warnings, some dire. Yet most critics, while acknowledging the violence of the story, also praised the sensitivity with which Collins handles that violence and the importance of the questions the books raises. These critics recommended that parents seize opportunities for discussions with their children, and some remarked that the turn toward darker stories that characterizes recent YA (young adult) literature is not surprising and has its roots in real-world issues, of which few teens are unaware.
Lionsgate worked with Collins to adapt The Hunger Games series for the screen, and the first movie, The Hunger Games, was released in 2008. Catching Fire and Mockingjay: Part 1 followed, with the final movie scheduled to hit theaters in the fall of 2015. As with the novels, the movie adaptations, based on Collins’ own screenplays, have been critical and financial successes.
The stories of Gregor and of Katniss Everdeen have occupied much of Collins’ time in recent years, but she continues to work on other projects as well. Two illustrated children’s books, Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front (2013), and When Charlie McButton Lost Power (2005) and its sequel, When Charlie Button Gained Power (2009), have also seen successful international publication. The first is based on Collins’ childhood and her father’s deployment to Vietnam when she was six, and the second and third books tell the light-hearted story about a boy who loves computer games—perhaps a bit too much. In addition, Collins continues to work on screenplays.
Writing for very young children, older children, young adults, and—inevitably—their grown-up parents, Suzanne Collins has established herself as one of the most influential fiction writers currently working. Her range is illustrated by the contrasting stories she has written—the sweetness of Oswald and Clifford’s Puppy Days is a world apart from the dire dangers of The Underland Chronicles and the oppressive brutality of The Hunger Games trilogy. Among the many awards her writing has garnered are the California Young Reader Medal, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, KIRKUS Best Young Adult Book, and inclusion in TIME Magazine’s 2010 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Famously private about her family life, Collins is married to Cap Pryor, an actor; they and their two children live in Connecticut.