“Small Presses Celebrate Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th Birthday”

The national publication for book sellers and publishers, Publishers Weekly, featured the Pioneer Girl Project yesterday. Read the story from Claire Kirch below.


This year marks the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth on February 7, 1867, and two small presses are marking the occasion by publishing books offering new perspectives on the life and times of the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie series.

The South Dakota Historical Society Press kicked off the anniversary year in May by publishing Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal. Koupal isn’t only the editor of this collection of 11 essays examining the life and times of the Little House on the Prairie books: she also is the director of the press, which published Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.

The book was an instant bestseller, selling out of its 15,000-copy initial print run before its pub date. It became the hot—and hard-to-get—title of the 2014 holiday season—even though it clocked in at 472 pages and cost $40.

To date, Pioneer Girl has sold more than 165,000 copies and is in its 10th print run. In comparison, SDHSP’s second bestselling title, Tatanka and the Lakota People, has sold about 15,000 copies. Print runs for SDHSP titles typically range between 1,000–5,000 copies.

Despite the success of Pioneer Girl, Koupal insists that it wasn’t just the hope of publishing another bestseller about an author that people can’t seem to get enough of that steered her towards publishing Pioneer Girl Perspectives, which to date has sold 7,500 copies and is still in its first print run.

“We wanted more perspective moving forward with a textual study of Pioneer Girl,” she explained. “Why is she so popular? She wasn’t even a supporter of women’s suffrage and women’s rights.”

The first essay in the collection, “The Speech for the Detroit Book Fair, 1937,” is the transcription of a presentation Wilder made during a literary event held inside a Motor City department store. It is one of the rare occasions during which Wilder spoke publicly about her life and her books, and the speech includes reflections upon the world beyond the prairie and the famous little houses she lived in as a child.

Koupal said that she worked hard to make the essays accessible to the kinds of readers who snapped up copies of Pioneer Girl. The essays examine Wilder from various angles, and boast such intriguing titles as “The Strange Case of the Bloody Benders: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and Yellow Journalism” by Caroline Fraser and “Little Myths on the Prairie” by Michael Patrick Hearn. As an added treat for Wilder fans, the long-time attorney for the Little House Heritage Trust, Noel Silverman, for the first time discusses Wilder in a Q&A with Koupal in “Her Stories Take You with Her: The Lasting Appeal of the Little House Books.” His take on why Wilder is still so popular? It’s because her tales emphasize interdependence among members of a community rather than independence. “[Wilder’s] narrative says that I can build a better house, faster, if Mr. Edwards will help me, in return for which I will gladly help him build his house,” Silverman states in the Q&A.

Pub Weekly

Read more at publishersweekly.com.

 

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You are still in Kansas, Laura

Reading or re-reading a work as iconic as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series is like a dialogue with entire generations of readers who have gone before. I realized that while browsing through scholar William Anderson’s fine essay in Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder. Anderson’s “Pioneer Girl: Its Roundabout Path into Print” is one of eleven essays in the book and examines Wilder’s first efforts at getting her pioneering experiences into print. It appears in the section that editor Nancy Tystad Koupal called “Beginnings and Misdirections,” which is fitting in more ways than one—maybe the “misdirections” part in particular.

Anderson deals with the questions that began around 1963 about actual dates and places in the Ingallses’ story. For example, a Colorado woman questioned whether the family had really lived in Kansas at all, and she convinced publisher Harper & Row that the Ingalls family had actually settled in Oklahoma (sort of a Dorothy moment for Laura? You’re not in Kansas anymore).

Anderson goes on to tell how Eileen Charbo, who worked at the Kansas State Historical Society library in Topeka, did her own investigation, trying to save one of Kansas’s favorite regional books for Kansas. And she did. She contacted Rose Wilder Lane, Wilder’s daughter, who sent her a typewritten copy of the births and deaths as recorded in the Ingalls family Bible, including a reference to “Caroline Celestia Ingalls born Wednesday, Aug. 3, 1870, Montgomery Co. Kansas.”1 Charbo then found the Ingalls family—incorrectly listed as “Ingles”—in the Ninth United States Census of 1870 in Rutland Township of Montgomery County, Kansas. True, Montgomery County is in southeast Kansas, smack up against the Oklahoma border, but it is still in Kansas. After reading this passage in Anderson’s essay, I vaguely remembered hearing a teacher discussing this issue with the class when I was in elementary school, and I asked my wife if she remembered any uncertainty about where the Ingalls homestead was. She said no.

lhp_backcover

Back cover of Little House on the Prairie, First Harper Trophy Book printing, 1971

That wasn’t quite the end of the discussion, however. The next day, my daughter, who has grown up reading her mother’s old boxed paperback set of the Little House books, brought me that copy of Little House on the Prairie. There, on the back of the Harper Trophy Book from 1971, are these words: “The Big Woods was getting too crowded. So Pa sold the little log house and built a covered wagon. They were moving to Indian country! They traveled all the way from Wisconsin to Oklahoma, and there Pa built the little house on the prairie.”

Clearly, Harper & Row thought that the Ingalls family had gone to Oklahoma. But perhaps that is not so surprising. Wilder herself originally wrote that the family lived forty miles from Independence, Kansas, and, as a result, she and Lane had searched for the homesite in Oklahoma. But it was actually only about thirteen miles from Independence—and still in Kansas.2

Lance Nixon


1 Quoted in William Anderson, “Pioneer Girl: Its Roundabout Path into Print,” in Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2017), p. 86.

2 John E. Miller, Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman behind the Legend (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), p. 266n27. See also Fred Kiewit, “Stories That Had to Be Told,” Kansas City Star, May 22, 1955.