Growing up, Suzanne Collins was a military brat. Her father was a career airman in the United States Air Force, and as a result, Collins and her siblings—two older sisters and an older brother—moved around frequently, spending time in numerous locations in the eastern United States as well as in Europe. The military played a leading role in the family’s history. Collins’s grandfather had served in World War I, her uncle served in World War II, and the year Collins turned six, her father left to serve his own tour in the Vietnam War. War, consequently, was a part of life for Collins, something very real and not just an abstract idea. While her father was gone, she would sometimes see video footage of the war zone on the news, and she recognized that her father was there fighting. Though her father returned after a year, Collins’s connection to war didn’t end. In addition to being a soldier, Collins’s father was also a military historian and a doctor of political science. That knowledge and his experiences serving in the Air Force and fighting in Vietnam had a profound effect on his relationships with his children, and he made sure they learned what they could about war. While other girls’ fathers were telling them fairytales, Collins’s father educated her about military history. When the family was moved to Brussels, Belgium, for instance, her father taught her about the region’s violent history and took her on tours of the country’s historic battlefields.
Eventually, Collins attended Indiana University. There, she met the man who would later become her husband, Cap Pryor. At 25, she began an M.F.A. program at New York University where she specialized in playwriting, and after graduation, worked for about a year before landing her first television-writing job on the show “Hi Honey, I’m Home!” Since then, Collins has been on the writing staff of several shows, including the Emmy-nominated “Clarissa Explains It All.” She and her husband had two children, and ultimately they decided to leave New York for Connecticut. It was there that Collins began work on her first series of books for children, “The Underland Chronicles.” The series was another success for Collins, making the New York Times bestseller list. Collins was 41 when the first book, Gregor The Overlander, was published.
One night, Collins was watching television, flipping back and forth between coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a reality-TV show. That’s when Collins had the idea that would ultimately turn into The Hunger Games. A longtime fan of Greek and Roman mythology, Collins borrowed a great deal from those sources to give the story its shape. One notable contribution came from the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, in which the Cretan king Minos demanded that seven maidens and seven youths be sent as a tribute every nine years. He gave these tributes to the Minotaur, who would consume them. Collins also borrowed from Ancient Roman history. The gladiatorial Games were updated and turned into a televised competition, and Collins took the name of her fictional dystopia from the Latin phrase “panem et circenses.” While Collins finished her often dark and violent book, she continued to write for television, working on the markedly less violent show “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”
The Hunger Games was published in September 2008 and quickly found critical success, with reviewers and other authors, including Stephen King, praising the book. Among the features that received the most attention were the plotting and pace. Collins has attributed her skill in these areas to her background as a playwright and her time spent working in television, where there is little downtime allowed and character development has to occur simultaneously with the storyline constantly moving forward. The book also rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and subsequently spent more than three consecutive years on the list. The other books in the trilogy, published over the next two years, followed the same pattern, all becoming huge commercial successes. Then, in March 2012, The Hunger Games movie was released. It had the third-highest opening weekend in history, and the highest opening weekend ever for a movie that was not a sequel. There are now more than 18 million copies of The Hunger Games in print, and with the trilogy now available in fifty languages, the books have genuinely become a worldwide phenomenon.