Laura's Lasting Appeal

on Friday, 20 February 2015. Posted in Writers Notebook

The month of February marks the 148th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder's birth in 1867, and the 58th year since she died in 1957.  Her long life spanned America's post Civil War era to its emergence as a world power.  Her life as  a pioneer became the stuff of her legendary "Little House" series of books, which have retained their staying power since the publication of her first volume in 1932.

Wilder is, by all counts, one of America's classic authors.  She is remarkable for many reasons.  She stored up the images and experiences of the frontier, and felt the urge, as a grandmotherly older woman, to share these stories with America's youth.  Her books recounted the social history of our country's westward expansion, through the experiences of the Ingalls and Wilder families.  Like a thread flowing through her books, themes of independence, faith, courage and strength of family are woven.  Wilder's storytelling style captivates readers with its tenderness, humor, and immediacy.  Her family has become our quintessential pioneer family.

Currently, Wilder is again a hot literary name.  Her previously unpublished manuscript, a first person autobiography, is a runaway best-seller.  The book, entitled Pioneer Girl,was Wilder's first attempt at writing a book.  In it, she recounted her whole childhood and youth, up until her marriage to Almanzo Wilder in 1885.   She wrote of her family's pioneering and life in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota, over a period of fifteen rugged years.  The manuscript failed to find a publisher in 1930, but it served as the blueprint for a much better plan: the recasting of the tales as a nine-volume series of children's books.

Although Pioneer Girl was used as a research source by several authors, including the present one, it was archived among Wilder's papers at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa.  Late in 2014, the book was published by South Dakota State Historical Society Press, with expert annotations by Pamela Smith Hill.  Since then, it has been a struggle to meet  international demand for the book!  By next month, a whopping 75,000 copies of Pioneer Girl will be in print, and waiting readers will have back-ordered copies.  The book publication matches excitement connected with such latter-day appearances of Mark Twain's autobiography, Louisa May Alcott's long-lost gothic thriller, and the announcement that Harper Lee's prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird will be issued.  At Wilder's restored and preserved homesites, all heavily visited by her readers, the demand for the new book has been constant. Amazon announced that Pioneer Girl  was their top requested book in early February.

Yes, Laura Ingalls Wilder's name and fame are alive and well!

But are there more words by the beloved author still awaiting publication?   Yes, the writer of this blog is currently working on the very last unpublished material written by the amazing Mrs. Wilder.