Editor to Discuss Wilder Autobiography at Festival
‘Pioneer Girl’ Is as Hot as Ma’s Johnny Cakes
Rejected by editors in the 1930s, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s biography has become a runaway best-seller.
Pamela Smith Hill, editor of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, will discuss the book’s phenomenal success, as well as her research and writing process, at the 2015 South Dakota Festival of Books, Sept. 25-27 in Deadwood.
This unique edition of Wilder’s personal story, published in November 2014 by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, was designed primarily for scholars, but has been embraced by Little House fans worldwide. The first printing of 15,000 copies sold out before Christmas, and the next 15,000 sold out even before they came off the press. This month, a fifth printing will put more than 125,000 copies in circulation.
The pent-up demand has led to great publicity, which has led to even more demand. The book has appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and Amazon best-seller lists, and has been featured in media ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the BBC Women’s Hour.
New Stories, More Grit
Pioneer Girl was Wilder’s first real attempt at writing her childhood story, and it formed the genesis for her beloved Little House books. Although Wilder wrote those books for children, she intended Pioneer Girl for an adult audience. Thus, readers will find stories that were completely left out of the fictional series, as well as more realistic versions of familiar events and characters.
For example, Hill wrote a post on the Pioneer Girl Project blog (pioneergirlproject.org) comparing Wilder’s autobiographical depiction of her father to the beloved Pa of the Little House series. “[B]ased on the historical record and Wilder’s recollections, it is clear that the fictional character in her novels is romanticized and idealized,” Hill wrote. “In Pioneer Girl, for example, Pa sneaked his family out of town in the middle of the night after failing to negotiate the rent with the landlord.”
The publication by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press is an annotated edition, featuring Wilder’s original text intermingled with commentary by Hill. Annotations throughout the 472-page book provide historical context, comparing the original version with the five subsequent edited versions, as well as with the Little House books. The book also features numerous photographs, maps, newspaper articles, and images from historical collections throughout the country.
Wilder’s Original Voice
The decision to concentrate on the first draft and build from there was a deliberate one, Hill said. “We used Wilder’s rough draft version as the basis for the text, because we know that that’s the closest we can get to Wilder’s voice, and I thought that that was important: to try to hear Wilder expressing her memories, her feelings, her life story, in what were clearly her own words.”
The Little House Heritage Trust, the administrators of Wilder’s estate, granted the rights to publish Pioneer Girl to the South Dakota State Historical Society Press partly as a result of the Press’s award-winning 2007 biography, Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, written by Hill.
In addition to her work with the Wilder books, Hill has written three young adult novels: Ghost Horses, The Last Grail Keeper and A Voice from the Border. At 18, she sold her first story to her hometown newspaper and has been writing professionally ever since. She’s taught classes in professional and creative writing and children’s literature at universities in Missouri, Oregon, Washington and Colorado.
Hill’s books have been recognized by the Junior Library Guild, the Oregon Book Awards, Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, the New York Public Library, the National Indie Excellence Committee and the Mark Twain Award Committee. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she continues to teach and write.
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