I have known Laura Ingalls Wilder since I was seven years old when my parents purchased the entire set for me for my birthday. At first I didn’t know what it was and my mother had to explain to me the connection to the TV show. Then I got very excited, for I often imagined to be like Melissa Gilbert as Laura.
What began was a life long interest in historical fiction, women’s history, social history, and a fascination with adaptations.
Because of the Little House series I learned to read on my own. It was the first series where I hid under the blankets with a flashlight to finish one and then go right in the next. I read them and continue to read them when I’m going through a difficult time.
It was the first time I learned that there was a writer behind those stories and I needed to know more about her. It is because of Laura Ingalls Wilder that I travelled the same path with L.M. Montgomery.
I read Donald Zochert’s biography–with truly the longest title in history and truly genius in marketing on behalf of the book designer–when I was about nine (my copy is still in very good condition).
Check out the really “historically accurate” photo of a hunky Almanzo and young Laura (with a little bit of cleavage showing) gazing at each other on the back cover.
There were real pictures of a real person and I began to understand that there were inconsistencies between the books, the show, and her life. Weirdly, I was okay with this. And when my parents went to visit friends when I was a teenager, they brought back for me booklets by a William Anderson and postcards from the homesteads and I put these into a scrapbook. (Never said that I was a painter…)
Wilder saved me when I my best friend moved away when I was 7, when I was transitioning from high school to university, and when I went back to school at 37.
I always wanted to know more. I still do.
Today marks Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 148th birthday and, more than ever before, we are seeing resurgence of interest in her life and work. Prompted no doubt by the selling out of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography (the manuscript Wilder failed to sell in the 1930s but would eventually become the groundwork for the Little House series) Wilder has been in the cultural consciousness for months now.
We are seeing news stories about the Little House on the Prairie reunion with its stars writing cookbooks and autobiographies, and pop cultural references, such as this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory featuring Little House fan fiction.
The timing is perfect, too, because this year is also the biennial conference, Laurapalooza, where fans of the author and the series congregate to discuss all things Wilder. Full disclosure I am volunteering to be in the PR and marketing committee and I have sent in a proposal, WHICH I JUST HEARD HAS BEEN ACCEPTED!!!
All this means, is that I love to have the opportunity to discuss Wilder and her influence on children’s literature, historical fiction, and the discussions around the treatment of First Nations people and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane’s libertarianism. I believe any opportunity to have a positive discussion where we can learn about ourselves and our history is worthy of exploration.
When I began to believe in my writing and decided to make it my career, it was Wilder who once again inspired me. George Eliot said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” And for Wilder this was certainly true. She had been writing articles for the Missouri Ruralist for most of her life and quietly working away on her autobiography. Little House in the Big Woods was not published until she was 65 years old.
Isn’t it amazing that at 148 years old, Wilder has had a rebirth. We are beginning to understand how she connected her life to her fiction, how she became a writer, and how as a frontier woman she stepping out in front of history to define herself and women of her generation.