Book lovers attending Saturday’s Twin Cities Book Festival at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds will see tributes to popular and bestselling author Gary Paulsen at the Red Balloon Bookshop booth where Paulsen’s classic “Hachet” and his other young adult books will be displayed.
Paulsen, born in Minneapolis, was 82 when he died on Wednesday. People in the local book community knew something was wrong when their appearance at the October 9 Virtual Book Festival was cancelled. He had to read from his latest book, “How to Train Your Dad.” Her memoir for middle-grade readers, “Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood,” was published in January. It tells how the author faced his parents’ alcohol addiction by visiting the forest and the library.
Paulsen was one of the most respected authors of contemporary literature for young people, praised for his candid prose and thrilling tales of adventure such as “Hachet”, a 1986 novel about a boy who survives a plane crash. and learns to survive the challenges of nature. It has sold over 4.5 million copies.
The author of more than 200 books for adults and youth, Paulsen won the American Library Association’s prestigious Newbery Honors for “Dogsong,” “Hachet” and “The Winter Room.” In 1997 she won the ALA’s Margaret Edwards Award for a body of work that made a “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature”.
“Gary’s books keep selling out constantly and steadily,” said Holly Wenkouf, owner of Red Balloon on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue. “He was one of the first to write outdoor adventure stories that appeal to children who don’t think of themselves as readers, but are drawn to these types of books.”
It’s safe to say that “Hachet” and Paulsen’s other young adult books wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t lived in northern Minnesota. It was clear during a 1996 interview he did with Pioneer Press from his farm in New Mexico, when “Brian Winters”, the sequel to “Hachet”, was published.
For “Bryan’s Winter”, he drew on his own wilderness experiences in Minnesota and Canada, describing how 13-year-old Brian was a man by sewing a tunic out of rabbit fur and making a flint-tipped spear. After surviving a plane crash, he faces a severe winter. to save himself.
“Oh, I’ve seen a lot of winters,” said Paulsen, who drove 15 sled dogs while living in Bekida, north of Bemidji. “Like Brian, I’ve hunted with a bow, attacked by moose, dealt with the cold so severely that trees were torn down. Because I write about real things, the truth in my work to people I just tell the story. I don’t try to put in hidden meaning or crank it up with messages. … A lot of young-adult books talk to kids. I go to school and the kids I’ve found that they’re smarter than many adults, and they’re honest.”
Paulsen had a difficult childhood of his own, he admitted. His parents were alcoholics so he spent a lot of time living with his uncles in northern Minnesota, where he joked, “Everyone north of Bemidji is related to me.”
Barely graduating from Chor River Falls High School, he served in the military, worked for a men’s magazine in California (a job he got from submitting a false resume), and eventually returned to Minnesota and “Hole in a Cabin” and wrote his first published book, “Some Birds Don’t Fly.” But wine took precedence over writing, and he spent much of the early 1970s drunk in New Mexico.
They broke up when he found sobriety in the 1970s, so he moved back to northern Minnesota with his wife, artist Ruth Wright Paulsen, and their son, Jim. They lived in an unheated former bus garage that had no plumbing and a door so loosely slid in the snow.
Using an old sled and four borrowed dogs, Paulsen began running a 20-mile trap line. “I was sleeping on a sled, on a seven-day run,” he recalled in a 1992 Pioneer press interview. “I became less fond of trapping and killing. My dogs had life, and so did the animals I trapped. I left, but I told everyone that I was still trapped.”
Paulsen and his dogs twice took part in the grueling, 1,100-mile Iditarod race across Alaska. During the second race, he and his team were caught in the Bering Sea in such high winds that the dogs were blown into the air. A plane had to lift them off the ice, and they didn’t complete the course.
After suffering a serious heart attack in 1989, Paulsen sold the beloved sled dogs he had worked with for 11 years, and he and Ruth moved to New Mexico, where they hoped to live as simply as possible.
“The more successful I am, the less successful I feel,” Paulsen admitted. “I have a pickup, a modest house. I want to free myself from everything, live with a spoon, a bowl, and focus on art.”
In a presentational commentary, Paulsen lamented that the nature he experienced in the North Woods has been almost lost to many townspeople.
“We are on the edge of serious disaster with Ebola, AIDS, the virus which is a function of nature,” he said. “People have forgotten that ‘man proposes but nature disposes.’ We have technology and lots of beautiful things, but a microbe can kill us. It’s part of our effort not to be natural, our almost concerted effort to elevate a species (human beings) above nature.