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Featured Author: Gary Paulsen
Born May 17, 1939, Gary Paulsen is one of America's most popular writers for young people. A master storyteller who has written more than 175 books, not to mention hundreds of articles and short stories for children and adults, Paulsen is one of the most important writers of young adult literature today. His ability to tap into the human spirit and encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has brought him enormous popularity with young people, as well as critical acclaim from the children's book community. A three-time Newbery Honor winner for Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room, Gary Paulsen is also winner of the 1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author's lifetime contribution to writing books for teens.
Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age, after a librarian gave him a book to read along with his own library card. He acquired a taste for adventure at age 14, when he ran away from home to travel with a carnival. His powerful stories rely on the ample material collected through his experiences: working on a farm, as an engineer, a construction worker, a ranch hand, a truck driver, a sailor, and surviving two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dogsled race, the Iditarod.
Paulsen's realization that he would become a writer came suddenly--one night he walked off his job as a satellite technician and began to focus on writing instead. After a year stint as a magazine proofreader in Hollywood, Paulsen moved to Minnesota to work on his first novel. Living in the remote Minnesota woods, he became interested in dogsled racing and entered the 1983 Iditarod. In 1985, after running the Iditarod for the second time, he suffered an attack of angina and was forced to give up his dogs:
Paulsen and his wife--Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books--divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific.
The first author that my son ever got excited about was Gary Paulsen. DJ read all thirty books in his Culdpeper Series (for 3-4th graders). The books were full of adventure and fun and I heard DJ in his reading chair laughing. I also got to hear about the adventures of Dunc and Amos at dinner almost every night of third grade. Paulsen came to Milwaukee last week and we were excited to see him in person as he promotes his latest release Brianís Hunt. Paulsen approached the stage before a room packed with over 700 people. We were excited to be in a room full of children and families who all celebrated reading Paulsen's books. A short bearded man, who looked like heíd just stepped out from the back porch where heíd been chopping wood, took the stage. "Iíd like to tell you that I wanted to be a writer my whole life, that I studied literature, and went to the finest college. But itís not true. I grew up in Minnesota, a son of the two town drunks." Paulsen spoke without judgment or bitterness. He told about hanging around the bars and waiting until people were drunk enough so he could steal their change from the bar. He talked about spending as much time in the woods as possible. "Thatís where I was always comfortable."
His life changed one day when he ducked into the library to escape a cold rain. The librarian asked him if he wanted a library card. "I held that card and saw my name printed there. I was somebody. I only felt a moment like that one other time in my life." Paulsen doesnít remember the name of the first book she gave him to read, but he remembers it took him many weeks to get through it. He kept reading.
The second time he experienced a moment that changed the direction of his life was while working in the space industry in California. He had a realization in the middle of a work shift that he was going to be a writer. He turned in his ID, gave up a well-paid job and ended up divorced, bankrupt, and living in the woods. To some, this might sound like he was a failure. But he was happy and competent in the woods. He even remarried and woman who spent a Minnesota winter living in lean-to with him.
Paulsen told great fun stories about a bear chasing his anti gun wife into the cabin while
she yelled, "Shoot him."
"It took three shots."
He talked of having hallucinations of an auditor sitting on his sled when he ran the Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska. "Everybody gets hallucinations by about the end of the second day." A native Alaska boy tried to help him with his dogs, and ended up in the middle of the tangled dogs. Paulsen picked the boy high out of the pack, held him up, and asked, "What are you doing to those dogs? Youíre going to get yourself killed." Paulsen then discovered that the village didnít have dogs anymore, they had snowmobiles. The young people wanted to learn about the dogs. Paulsensí Dogsongs was inspired by that event.
Paulsenís books are inspired by his life and his enthusiasm for history, nature and adventure.
Gary Paulsen is the distinguished author of many critically acclaimed books for young people, including three Newbery Honor books: The Winter Room, Hatchet, and Dogsong. His most recent titles are Caught by the Sea, How Angel Peterson Got His Name and Other Outrageous Tales about Extreme Sports, and The Glass Cafť. The author lives in New Mexico and on the Pacific Ocean
Other books by Paulsen:
Alidaís Song. Delacorte, 1999.
Brianís Hunt. Wendy Lamb Books, 2003
The River. Yearling Books, 1993
Read more about Gary Paulsen as editor in his anthology Self Life.