Gary Paulsen, 1939-2021
October 13, 2021 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Gary Paulsen, author of wilderness-centered young adult fiction, has died at the age of 82.

Paulsen is perhaps most famous for Hatchet, a tale of a teenage boy who crash-lands alone in the Canadian wilderness and must survive the summer with only the titular tool to help him. Together with several other novels emphasizing themes of survival, it earned Paulsen the 1997 Margaret A. Edwards award.

Most recently, Paulsen released a memoir in January, Gone to the Woods, about the childhood experiences that informed his fiction. NPR interview from April.
posted by egregious theorem (54 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by Alensin at 7:31 PM on October 13


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posted by Halloween Jack at 7:40 PM on October 13


Oh, this is a blow. I hope he knew how much his books meant to so many readers. Hatchet will stay with me for a long time.

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posted by brainwane at 7:42 PM on October 13 [4 favorites]


Oh wow, Hatchet was one of my favorite books in childhood. I still remember the description of silence, total stillness and I feel like I’ve looked for that ever since.

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posted by bxvr at 7:48 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


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posted by BlueHorse at 7:58 PM on October 13


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posted by riruro at 8:00 PM on October 13


His books went big after I was their target market, but all four of my kids read them. Among the books that are assigned in middle school, his seem to be the least-hated -- quite an accomplishment!

His writing reminds me of Jim Kjellgard and William Durbin: real adventures outdoors for non-adults.

Rest easy, sir, and thanks for sending so many kids' imaginations to places their bodies couldn't visit.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:04 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]


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posted by snuffleupagus at 8:05 PM on October 13


My 7-year-old and I are in the middle of reading Hatchet this week. He’s so into it. Such a great book. It’s interesting re-reading it as an adult. I read it on my own when I was a little older than my kid and what I remember wanting to “be” Brian when he accomplishes big things: makes fire, goes back down into the plane. But reading it now I’m struck with what an emotionally raw, vulnerable kid Brian is. He’s not just surviving the wilderness. I think that’s who I wanted to be.
posted by not_the_water at 8:12 PM on October 13 [4 favorites]


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posted by rogerroger at 8:14 PM on October 13


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posted by Fukiyama at 8:55 PM on October 13


When I was a kid I found a copy of Hatchet under my desk at school and devoured it. I loved it so much I asked my teacher, who I assumed had put if there, if she had any more by the author. She was silent a moment, then said “I put that there because your desk wobbles, not for you to read! It’s the right thickness, put it back under the desk leg!”

Luckily the local library was more help, he was a favorite author of mine for years.

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posted by lepus at 9:06 PM on October 13 [41 favorites]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:15 PM on October 13


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posted by alicat at 9:16 PM on October 13


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Loved the Hatchet as a kid
posted by CostcoCultist at 9:19 PM on October 13


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posted by skycrashesdown at 9:50 PM on October 13


Hatchet, Brian’s Winter, The Car, The Rifle…so many great memories. Thank you Gary Paulsen.

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posted by metatuesday at 9:52 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 10:13 PM on October 13


She was silent a moment, then said “I put that there because your desk wobbles, not for you to read! It’s the right thickness, put it back under the desk leg!”

Some people shouldn't be teachers.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:43 PM on October 13 [15 favorites]


I wish I had discovered Hatchet when I was a child, but anyway I'm glad I discovered it when I was 45. A great book I will be recommending to my kids.
posted by zardoz at 12:38 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


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posted by condour75 at 3:01 AM on October 14


Oh wow. I loved Hatchet, and all the other books by him. Such a vivid, strong, direct way of telling a story, his way of getting right to the core of things made a big impact on me both as a reader and a writer.
The little bit I know about his life story also impressed me. Vulnerable and resilient.
posted by Zumbador at 3:35 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


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posted by mersen at 3:35 AM on October 14


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posted by batbat at 4:21 AM on October 14


. I'm absolutely devastated. So many of those books were and remain a huge and important part of my life. Woodsong is my favorite.
posted by DSime at 4:47 AM on October 14


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posted by thenormshow at 5:07 AM on October 14


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posted by doctornemo at 5:23 AM on October 14


In April of 2020, still figuring out teaching online, one of my students asked if we could read a biography together. I went into our shuttered school building, open only one morning a week, and found Woodsong in our class library. Not a biography but a memoir, close enough. I read it aloud to my fourth and fifth graders over zoom. They were entranced by it. The adventure, the violence of nature, and his bonds with his dogs were all told so well.

I often tell my students that a book can be a window into another time and place. Gary Paulson transported a group of Chicago kids to an Alaskan wilderness. We were there with him, at a time when we didn’t really know how to be here. And we were together in that story at a time when we were isolated by lockdown. I am grateful for all of that.
posted by mai at 5:29 AM on October 14 [21 favorites]


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posted by mfoight at 5:31 AM on October 14


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posted by filtergik at 5:59 AM on October 14


I adored his books!

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posted by james33 at 6:02 AM on October 14


In April of 2020, still figuring out teaching online, one of my students asked if we could read a biography together. I went into our shuttered school building, open only one morning a week, and found Woodsong in our class library. Not a biography but a memoir, close enough. I read it aloud to my fourth and fifth graders over zoom. They were entranced by it. The adventure, the violence of nature, and his bonds with his dogs were all told so well.

I often tell my students that a book can be a window into another time and place. Gary Paulson transported a group of Chicago kids to an Alaskan wilderness. We were there with him, at a time when we didn’t really know how to be here. And we were together in that story at a time when we were isolated by lockdown. I am grateful for all of that.
posted by mai at 8:29 AM on October 14


Is Woodsong the one where he watches the squirrel kill another squirrel (or was it a chipmunk?) he's trying to feed? That scene made a huge impression on me as a kid for whatever reason, I still think about it all the time.

As a kid, I LOVED Gary Paulsen. I devoured everything I could find of his in the public library, and basically all the stories I wrote for school were (slight) variations on "boy alone in the woods, usually with a dog" themes (my actual dog was less inspiring than the neighbor's yellow lab, so my author inserts usually stole their neighbor's dog before setting off for adventure). I also once taped a movie off TV because I believed it to be an adaptation of the second Brian book, The River (it wasn't). I can't wait to introduce my kid to his stuff when she's old enough.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:39 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


I was also the right age for Hatchet and The River to hit hard.

I remember noting that the kid was flying to see the other divorced parent IIRC - very helpful to see divorce among adults in fiction before it hit for real a couple years later.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:05 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Appreciate the post. Feel like I have had peripheral exposure to his work but not read it. I listened to the NPR interview which sent me down the youtube rabbithole. I'm a sucker when people acknowledge the pivotal role a librarian, teacher, etc. had in their life. I love, love, love the recognition of simple acts of kindness to children has an exponential effect.

Rest easy friend. The trail ahead is marked and full of wonder.

January 13, 2021 Interview with Gary Paulsen.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:21 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


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posted by TheCoug at 7:23 AM on October 14


Oh man, sorry to hear that. I loved his books as a kid, and had a very particular relationship with them in that the illustrator for his book covers lived in my town and used kids from my school as references for his drawings. So like, I know the kid on the cover of Hatchet!
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:51 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


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posted by Don.Kinsayder at 8:02 AM on October 14


I never read Hatchet (I was more of a Farley Mowat fan as a kid) but my son was a huge fan. It has stayed with for years and he brings it up every so often. The year he read it, he asked for a hatchet for Christmas.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:12 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]



> Some people shouldn't be teachers.

She might have been bad at her job or she might have been caring for 30 kids, and trying to stop the (thump thump thump) of a wobbling desk from disrupting the kid with sensitivities across the room without constantly punishing the OP for effectively having bad luck with an uneven/stable floor and fidgeting normally. I try to be positive about what is otherwise a funny anecdote.
posted by Phalene at 8:22 AM on October 14 [11 favorites]


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posted by jquinby at 9:01 AM on October 14


*reads about his childhood on Wikipedia* What the what?

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posted by Melismata at 10:23 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


i remember reading "The Car" when I was a pretty young kid, and it might have been the first time I had encountered a gay character in literature. Is I remember it, it seemed that Paulsen wrote the character - one of the Vietnam vet biker guys that the main character, the kid, encounters on his trip - to disassemble stereotypes. It was an "oh!" moment for me as a young kid, and I appreciated that from Paulsen.
posted by entropone at 10:46 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Oh no. So sorry to read of GP's passing. As a high school librarian trying to promote books to reluctant readers, Paulsen's writing was so compelling that it was easy to convince them to give his books a try, partly because they'd seen others reading them. Rest in power, good sir.
posted by Lynsey at 11:32 AM on October 14


I read Winterdance a few years ago and thought it was great: the copy I found in a used bookstore was even signed! I never realized he also wrote Hatchet, which I loved as a kid. Condolences to his family.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 12:43 PM on October 14


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posted by superna at 12:56 PM on October 14


I think I read it as an 18 or 19 year old when someone described it to me as "Walden for middle schoolers." I actually think I liked it quite a bit better than Thoreau.



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posted by Tesseractive at 1:25 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


I loved Paulsen’s books as a child and was reintroduced to him again as an adult after a friend lent me Winterdance. It had been a long time since I read a book that spoke to my quiet, inner self and this one did, with beautiful descriptions of joyful solitude and communion with nature (and lots of funny commentary along the way). I re-read it every winter, it’s so good. Rest in beauty, Mr. Paulsen.

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posted by stellaluna at 3:06 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Time to bury the man who wrote Hatchet.

A defining book of my childhood. RIP.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:23 PM on October 14


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posted by pianoblack at 8:30 PM on October 14


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posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:50 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod is one of my favourite books in the world. Eighty-two is a good innings, as they say, but boy what a loss to the world.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:58 AM on October 15


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Another lover of Hatchet here, it stayed with me for decades
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:55 AM on October 15


I think I read it as an 18 or 19 year old when someone described it to me as "Walden for middle schoolers." I actually think I liked it quite a bit better than Thoreau.


Surely that's My Side of the Mountain.

Walden kinda sucks.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:21 AM on October 16


I was just thinking of his memoir of farming, Clabbered Dirt and Sweet Grass. His books about raising sled dogs are also great.

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posted by OmieWise at 2:52 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


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