Gary Paulsen

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Gary Paulsen
Gary Paulsen.gif
BornGary James Paulsen
(1939-05-17) May 17, 1939 (age 81)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
GenreYoung adult fiction, adventure novels, nonfiction
SubjectAdventure memoirs, sports
Notable works
Notable awardsMargaret Edwards Award
SpouseRuth Wright Paulsen
RelativesMichael Paulsen, Paulette Paulsen, and Bill Paulsen


Gary James Paulsen (born May 17, 1939)[1] is an American writer of young adult literature, best known for coming of age stories about the wilderness. He is the author of more than 200 books and has written more than 200 magazine articles and short stories, and several plays, all primarily for teenagers. He won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1997 for his lifetime contribution in writing for teens.[2]


Gary Paulsen has written some fragmented autobiographical works, such as Eastern Sun, Winter Moon: An Autobiographical Odyssey. The book, which is written in the first person, begins when Paulsen was seven, living in Chicago with his mother. Paulsen described several traumatic occurrences that transpired during the three years that are chronicled by the book. For example, one day while his mother was napping, Gary sneaked outside to play. There a vagrant snatched him and apparently attempted to molest him, but his mother suddenly appeared on the scene and beat the man to death. Paulsen reported his mother's many adulterous affairs in Eastern Sun, suggesting that the man he called "father" was not really his biological father. He also discussed his mother's alcoholism. He told how she would bring him to a bar and had him sing for his supper, even though she had an income from her work in an ammunition factory, and he felt there was no need for this. When World War II ended, Gary's father sent for him and his mother to come to join him in the Philippines, where he was stationed. A great part of the book is dedicated to the voyage by naval vessels to the Philippines. During the trip, Gary witnessed a plane crash. He, his mother, and the people who were also being transported on this ship (yacht) looked on as many of the airplane's passengers were killed or maimed by the sharks who would follow the ship consuming waste. His mother, the only woman aboard, helped the corpsman care for the surviving victims. After arriving in Hawaii, according to Paulsen, his mother began an affair with the ship's corpsman.[3]

In elementary he was very bad at literacy class and struggled with it. The accounts in Eastern Sun ended when Gary and his mother left Manila. Bits and pieces of Gary's adolescence can be pieced together in Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books. In that book, Paulsen discussed how he survived between the ages of twelve and fourteen back in Minnesota. He barely mentioned his parents except to say that they were too busy being drunk to stock the refrigerator. He worked several jobs during this time, including setting pins at the bowling alley, delivering newspapers, and working as a farmhand. He bought his own school supplies and a .22 single-shot rifle, which he used to hunt for sustenance. Eventually, he gave up the rifle and manufactured his own bow and arrows which he used to hunt deer.[4]

Much of what is known about Paulsen's life is revealed in prologues and epilogues of his own books. In his book The Quilt, one of a series of three books based on summers spent with his grandmother, Paulsen told about what a tremendous influence his grandmother had on him. It is difficult to say how factual an autobiography The Quilt is intended to be, as Paulsen is supposed to have been six years old in this story and yet he made references to events found in Eastern Sun, which is supposed to have been set later. He also refers to himself, in this book, in third person and only as "the boy".[5]

Even though Paulsen is now a successful author, he says he chooses to live in relative poverty. He reportedly lives with his wife, Ruth, who illustrates children's literature, in La Luz, New Mexico. (ALA reported Tularosa, New Mexico in 1997.)[2] He also spends some time living on a houseboat on the Pacific Ocean.

In 1983, Paulsen entered the 1,150-mile (1,850 km) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and placed 41st[6] out of 54 finishers, with an official time of 17 days, 12 hours, 38 minutes, and 38 seconds. In 1990, suffering from heart disease, Paulsen decided to give up dog sledding, which he described as the most difficult decision he has ever made. Paulsen would spend more than a decade sailing the Pacific before getting back into dog sledding in 2003. According to his keynote speech on October 13, 2007, at the Sinclair Lewis writing conference in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, he still intended to compete in the Iditarod. He is listed in the "Withdrawn/Scratched" section of the 1985 and 2006 Iditarod. Paulsen is an outdoorsman (a hunter and trapper), who maintains a 40-acre (160,000 m2) spread north of Willow, Alaska, where he breeds and trains sled dogs for the Iditarod.

Much of Paulsen's work features the outdoors and highlights the importance of nature. He often uses "coming of age" themes in his novels, where a character masters the art of survival in isolation as a rite of passage to manhood and maturity. He is critical of technology and has been called a Luddite.[7]

The Hatchet series, or Brian's adventures, five novels published from 1987 to 2003, comprises some of Paulsen's best-known work. Dogsong (1985), My Life in Dog Years (1998), The Winter Room (1989), and Harris and Me (1993) are four others of his many popular novels. Woodsong (1990) and Winterdance (1994) are among the most popular books about the Iditarod.

The ALA Margaret Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work for a "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature". Paulsen won the annual award in 1997, when the panel cited six books published from 1983 to 1990: Dancing Carl, Hatchet (first in the series), The Crossing, The Winter Room, Canyons, and Woodsong. The citation noted that "[t]he theme of survival is woven throughout, whether it is living through a plane crash or living in an abusive, alcoholic household" and emphasized Hatchet in particular for "encompassing a survival theme in all its aspects, physical as well as psychological" [2]

Three of Paulsen's books were runners-up for the Newbery Medal, the premier ALA annual book award for children's literature: Dogsong, Hatchet, and The Winter Room.[8] (The American Library Association distinguishes children's and young adult literature in its awards for lifetime contribution from 1988; in its annual book awards only since the inauguration of the Printz Award in 2000.)


  1. ^ "Gary James Paulsen". Minnesota Department of Health. Minnesota Birth Index, 1935-2002. Retrieved 25 April 2011. Name: Gary James Paulsen Birth Date: 17 May 1939 Birth County: Hennepin Father: Oscar Paulsen Mother: Eunice H Moen File Number: 1939-MN-038786(subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c "1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner". Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). American Library Association (ALA).
      "Edwards Award". YALSA. ALA. Retrieved 2013-10-13.
  3. ^ Paulsen, Gary (1993). Eastern Sun, Winter Moon. New York: Harcourt Brace. p. 244. ISBN 0-15-600203-5.
  4. ^ Paulsen, Gary (2001). Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet And The Brian Books. New York: Random house. ISBN 978-0-385-32650-6.
  5. ^ Paulsen, Gary (2004). The Quilt. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-440-22936-7.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Anne Goodwin Sides (August 26, 2010). "On the Road and Between the Pages, an Author Is Restless for Adventure". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922–Present". ALSC. ALA.
      "The John Newbery Medal". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2013-10-13.

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