Zach earned a master's degree in creative writing and has designed and taught college literature courses.
Bill Bryson: The Early Years
William McGuire Bryson, better known to readers as Bill Bryson, was born in 1951 in Des Moines, Iowa, and was raised there. Both of his parents were journalists, providing Bryson with a foundation in writing. He recounts stories from his seemingly all-American childhood in his 2006 memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. The Thunderbolt Kid was young Billy Bryson's invented alter ego, derived from a lightning-bolt sweater that allowed him to zap people he didn't like at any given moment. The memoir utilizes humor to avoid overt sentimentality, as Bryson reminisces about his friendships, his family, and the nostalgia surrounding the 1950s. Alongside the more personal stories, Bryson delves into the social and technological developments of that decade as well.
During a hiatus from college in the seventies, Bryson traveled Europe twice in two years. He ended up finding a job in Surrey, England, and lived there for a time. That's where he met his future wife, Cynthia Billen. After moving back to the United States to finish his degree, the couple relocated back to the United Kingdom in 1977.
The Writing Life
Bryson took up work as a journalist and editor for some of the most widely read newspapers in Britain. However, by 1987, he had set out to forge his own trail as an independent writer. He wrote some well-received books on travel and the English language, including Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, which flashes back to his earlier European travels, and Mother Tongue and Made in America, two histories of the English language.
The Brysons decided to move back to the US in 1995. Bryson took one last trip around the UK, as much as possible by public transportation, in order to experience as much of the island as he could. His resulting travel book, Notes from a Small Island, explores Britain's history, architecture, language, and not least of all, its people. The British reading public received this book so well that in a 2003 BBC poll they voted it as the book that best represents England.
Though an American by nationality, Bryson's writings often show a strong affinity for his adopted homeland. Yet one of his great breaks came, strangely enough, after the Brysons moved back to the US. He wrote a newspaper column about the oddities and strangeness of repatriating himself. The column reached widespread acclaim and became hugely popular in the United Kingdom. In 1999, the pieces were compiled into a book, I'm a Stranger Here Myself (alternately titled Notes from a Big Country in the UK).
Bryson was busy building on his reputation before the eventual release of I'm a Stranger Here Myself. He made a plan to walk the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine as a way of rediscovering his native country. The resulting travel memoir, A Walk in the Woods, continues Bryson's balance of personal narrative and thorough research. A Walk in the Woods explores the changing environment, America's political past, and the history of the trail itself.
Awards and Honors
One of Bryson's greatest critical achievements is the popular science book A Short History of Nearly Everything. In the book, he states, 'It occurred to me with a certain uncomfortable forcefulness that I didn't know the first thing about the only planet I was ever going to live on.' So he set out to learn all about science, and ended up winning the 2004 Aventis Prize for strong popular science writing, and the 2005 EU Descartes Prize for science communication. Bryson's humorous, entertaining, and gleefully self-deprecating tone helps readers with little to no science background understand the basics of science.
In the twenty-first century, Bryson has received a great deal of recognition for his life and work. He was appointed as chancellor of Durham University in England, and upon his resignation the university renamed its main library in his honor. In this time, Bryson received a number of honorary degrees from other institutions. But his most prestigious recognition came from the Royal Society. Britain's prestigious scientific society elected Bryson as an Honorary Fellow in 2013 -- an honor in its own right, but particularly so for a foreigner.
Throughout his career, Bill Bryson has written over twenty books, ranging from memoir and biography to travel, language, science, and history. His thorough research and his endearing, humorous, and accessible voice have made him a best-selling and award-winning author in both his native United States and his adopted United Kingdom. He continues to write and publish today.
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