Monday, August 14, 2017

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill

I love the cover of this biography.  I had never seen this image before, Laura looks lovely and quite stylish.  I purchased this biography while vacationing in De Smet, South Dakota this past June.  It seemed a perfect read for our trip into the land of Laura.

This biography is not an in depth look at the details of Laura’s life, but more a look at what shaped Laura as a writer.  I was very interested that she had the idea jotted down for writing children’s’ book about her pioneer childhood back in 1902 after Pa’s death.  She saved her first foray into literature with a poem that she wrote in school.  It seems that becoming an author was a lifelong dream of Wilder’s.

Laura earned extra income as an adult writing articles on farm life for the Missouri Ruralist and other papers.  I found it interesting that she also was published in a major magazine, McCall’s, as well due to urging from her daughter Rose.

Laura and Rose had a unique relationship.  They actually both became established authors at the same time, but Rose was known on the national level, while Laura was local.  Rose pushed Laura to write and helped her when she first tried to publish her autobiography, Pioneer Girl.  Rose also helped herself to using Laura’s story from Pioneer Girl in her own adult fiction.  This caused understandable fiction in the family.  It was interesting that the biography noted that if they wouldn’t have been mother and daughter, Rose would have ended up in court due to plagiarism charges.

With Rose’s help, Laura crafted children’s books from Pioneer Girl.  Laura was a gifted writer and Rose was a gifted editor.  It was very interesting how they took a true story and fictionalized it to tell a tale.  There has been much debate about this through the years as well as on the true authorship of the books, but research has shown that Laura wrote the novels with Rose’s editorial guidance.  They had a great partnership.

Favorite quotes:           
“I began to think what a wonderful childhood I had had.  I had seen the whole frontier, the woods, the Indian country of the Great Plains, the frontier towns, the building of railroads in wild, unsettled country, homesteading and farmers coming in to take possession. . . Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American history.”  - Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Did Wilder’s adolescence, spent describing people, places, and scenes for Mary, contribute to her development as first a storyteller and later a writer? “ – I’ve always wondered this myself.

“The snow was scudding low over the drifts of the white world outside the little claim shanty.  It was blowing thru the cracks in its walls and forming little piles and miniature drifts on the floor and even on the desks before which several children sat, trying to study, for this abandoned claim shanty that had served as the summer home of a homesteader on the Dakota prairies was being used a s a schoolhouse during the winter.”  - This was from a column Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in 1924.  She already had perfected her vivid descriptions that she used in her later fiction.

“Nevertheless, she struggled with the idea that her worked lacked artistry, that she wrote what sold rather than what would endure.”  Rose Wilder Lane.  I’ll admit, I’ve only read her fiction because of her mother and it lacks the artistry and enduring quality of her mother’s work.

Overall, Laura Ingalls Wilder:  A Writer’s Life is a great work on the process Wilder went through to create her classic works and the great partnership that Wilder and Lane had that allowed this work to flourish.  This is a must read for Laura Ingalls Wilder fans.

Book Source:  Purchased at the Ingalls Family Homestead in de Smet, South Dakota


  1. Laura, this does sound like a must-read for LIW fans. I enjoyed the favorite quotes, as usual. Excellent review!

  2. Thank-you! It was a very interesting biography. I really liked how it wasn't told from a traditional point of view, but on Laura as a writer.