Critically acclaimed dystopian author Suzanne Collins spent her childhood moving homes and reading works from George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut.
Collins was born in Conn., U.S.A. in 1962 and raised by her parents Jane and Michael Collins. Her father was heavily involved in the military for both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He served in the U.S. Air Force following Vietnam, and moved his family all over the U.S. and eventually to Belgium.
One of her earliest memories of childhood is her mother trying to shield her from the war news. While her father served in Vietnam, her mother worked hard to avoid exposing them to fear. Even as she was too young to fully understand the concept of war, she knew that her dad was in it and that it wasn’t safe. Even with her mother’s efforts, she still experienced anxiety and fear for her father’s safety.
Her first experience with harsh themes came from her fifth and sixth grade teacher. According to an interview for Scholastic, her teacher believed that her class could understand loss, death, or violence. While her domestic experienced also shaped who she is, she didn’t find herself completely immersed in books until her family had to relocate to Belgium. In Belgium, Collins had little access to television. In search of an escape, Collins fell in love with dystopian classics.
Following the release of the Hunger Games Trilogy, she wrote “The Jungle” to explore her unorthodox childhood and what her father’s deployment meant. The book continues to follow the narratives common within all of her stories, but with a more personal touch.
Desensitization and the Purpose of Her Work
Collins’ idea for the “Hunger Games” came from her own experience with desensitization related to the Iraq War. She became inspired by her own meshing of reality television and heartbreaking news. Then, she chose to write a story to help young readers understand the harsh reality of becoming desensitized to mass death.
Within the “Hunger Games,” she tackles the topic by focusing on teenagers as the victims of mass death and the wealthy elite as the perpetrators of violence.
From her own experiences of anxiety and fear for her father during war, she created characters that young people could easily empathize with. With characters including a teenage girl who would risk anything for her younger sister to a teenage boy who came from an abuse home, Collins took common experiences to express how close we already are to dystopia.
How Collins’ Global Experience Shaped Her Career
Without her childhood experience as a military B.R.A.T. in Belgium, it’s unlikely that Collins would’ve been able to write about war in a way that empowered youth to take action. Thanks to her early understanding of large-scale conflict, Collins created a world where children were directly harmed by pop culture and a world where they saved themselves.
Had Collins never had the free time to fall in love with dystopias or the experience of growing up with war, the Hunger Games may not have become a dystopian classic raising to the status of Ray Bradbury.