|Caroline Fraser lives and writes in Santa Fe.|
Caroline Fraser's deeply researched book about the life and historical times of Laura Ingalls Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2018, along with a host of other awards when it was published in 2017.
I read it last summer and it was an eye opener for me. The myth of Laura's pioneer life is so entrenched, and the popularity of her simple life story is so cherished, that it masked the fact that Laura's life -- and westward pioneer expansion in general -- was more about persistent economic failure and poor choices than it was about nation building and independence.
|Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1884 at age 17|
Her life, like that of many settlers, was one of rootless poverty growing up, constant struggle against calamity, illness and deaths in her early married life, and finally complete reinvention as she nostalgically created her Little House memoirs, very late in life.
Her biographer, Caroline Fraser, has a doctorate in literature from Harvard and has written previous books about the conservation revolution and about her own life growing up as a Christian Scientist.
|Caroline's previous books.|
It was great to have her with us, plopped in a chair in the living room with a plate of cake, answering our questions and telling us about a writer's life. She talked about chasing Laura's story all over the remoter parts of the midwest, and how so much research is tied up in a privately held library but the curator just died last month, and who knows what history has been hidden there all these years. She told us about meeting her husband, about moving to Santa Fe, and of living previously in the northwest, all a bit of normal book group chatter.
She is quiet, very soft spoken and a thoughtful, deliberate speaker. But even in her measured speech, she got us laughing at how she heard about winning the Pulitzer Prize (no one notifies the author, you hear you won the prize via Columbia University's video stream of the awards, or in the paper the next day. She had no clue her publisher had even nominated her, and had to hear about winning from someone else.)
Things like prestigious national prizes and advanced degrees from high institutions and the heady world of big name New York publishing were all fascinating to hear about, but the real pleasure of the afternoon was sitting in a Santa Fe living room with a bunch of readers talking to a talented writer and eating cake.