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George R. R. Martin
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

George R. R. Martin

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Fantasy writer George R. R. Martin created the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series, which became the basis of the hit show 'Game of Thrones.'

Who Is George R. R. Martin?

Fantasy writer George R. R. Martin's first novel, Dying of the Light, debuted in 1977, and by the mid-1980s he was also writing for television. In 1996 Martin published his first installment of the A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. He became a best-selling author in 2005 with the fourth title of the series, A Feast for Crows, paving the way for a widely celebrated TV adaptation that premiered as Game of Thrones in 2011.

Early Life and Education

George R. R. Martin grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his world "was five blocks long." He may have spent his early years staying close to home, but his imagination seemed to take him places. The oldest of three children, Martin liked to watch offbeat and suspenseful television shows, such as Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

The son of a longshoreman, Martin started writing in elementary school. He sold monster stories to other kids in his working-class neighborhood. During his high school years, Martin moved on to other subjects. He started writing fan fiction based on the comic books he adored and began creating new superheroes as well. At Marist High School, a Catholic boys school, Martin played on the chess team and worked on the school's newspaper. 

After graduating in 1966, Martin went to Northwestern University where he continued to pursue his passion for writing. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism in 1970 and then a master's degree in the same subject the following year.

A conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, Martin worked with the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation as part of his alternative service from 1973 to 1976. He then spent two years as a college professor at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa.

Early Writing: 'A Song for Lya and Others' and 'Dying of the Light'

Martin sold his first short story, "The Hero," to the science-fiction magazine Galaxy, which published the work in 1971. Continuing to write short stories, he released a collection of his tales as A Song for Lya and Others in 1976. His debut novel, Dying of the Light, came out the following year. Martin also served as an editor on numerous book projects, including New Voices in Science Fiction (1977) and the Wild Cards series.

'Twilight Zone' and 'Beauty and the Beast'

While he became well regarded in the fantasy and science fiction worlds, Martin had yet to achieve huge commercial success by the 1980s. He did, however, attract some attention from Hollywood. He worked as a story editor for a remake of the old favorite Twilight Zone in 1986 and then became involved with the series Beauty and the Beast, which began airing the following year.

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Writing for television posed certain challenges for Martin. "Whenever I would turn in a script, the producers would always say to me: George, this is wonderful, but it would cost five times our budget to produce it," he said in a National Public Radio interview. Weary of the limitations of television, Martin embarked on a new writing project in the early 1990s—a fantasy series inspired by medieval England's Wars of the Roses.

'A Song of Ice and Fire' and 'Game of Thrones'

The first installment of A Song of Ice and Fire may not have been an overnight success, but the strong word of mouth boosted sales as the series progressed. By the fourth volume, 2005's A Feast for Crows, Martin found his work at the top of the best-sellers list.

The books were introduced to an even larger audience with the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones, which debuted in 2011 and garnered numerous awards en route to becoming one of the biggest and most influential television shows in history. Also in 2011, Martin published the fifth title in the series, A Dance with Dragons. Eager fans from around the world snapped up the new book, creating yet another best-selling novel.

Although Game of Thrones wrapped its celebrated run on HBO in 2019, Martin was far from finished with his fantasy world, with the installments The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring yet to be published.

While often compared to J. R. R. Tolkien, Martin writes a grittier, earthier type of fantasy fiction than the man who created The Lord of the Rings. Martin's Westeros is mainly populated by humans who live morally complex lives and follow their own agendas. And his plots are masterfully handled, much like the game of chess he so enjoys. As one critic wrote, "Martin is a literary dervish, enthralled by complicated characters and vivid language, and bursting with the wild vision of the very best tale tellers."

As an author, Martin has also shown no mercy to his characters, killing off main characters and other favorites unexpectedly. Martin feels that he has "a certain moral obligation" to reflect the reality of war in his fantasy tales: "People die in wars. People get maimed in wars, and many of them are good, likable people who you would like to not see die," he once explained.

Personal Life

Martin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, Parris McBride. He was previously married to Gale Burnick, from 1975 to 1979.

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