Gary James Paulsen was an American writer of young-adult adventures. The author of some 200 books, Gary Paulsen was frequently compared to Ernest Hemingway, as much for his efficient prose as for his subject matter: mankind’s violent collision with nature. He wrote more than 200 magazine articles and short stories, and several plays, all primarily for teenagers.
His best-known book is the young-adult wilderness survival novel Hatchet (1986). By plot, a 13-year-old named Brian is the sole passenger on a small propeller plane headed from his home in New York City to visit his father in northern Canada. When the pilot has a heart attack and the plane crash-lands in a remote lake, Brian is forced to survive for months, using only a compact hatchet his mother gave him before he left.
Paulsen won a Newbery Honor for Hatchet, as well as for Dogsong (1985), about an Inuit boy learning to dog-sled, and The Winter Room (1989), about Norwegian immigrants in northern Minnesota.
His books have sold more than 35 million copies.
In 1997, Gary Paulsen won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association for his lifetime contribution to writing for teens.
Much of Paulsen's personal life can be read in the prologues and epilogues of his books. For instance, in The Quilt, one of a series of three novels he talks about the tremendous influence his grandmother had on him.
Originally from Minneapolis, Gary Paulsen was brought to New Mexico for a while by his Army service, a place in which he later chose to settle.
For several years he wrote westerns for adults under a pseudonym. He also spent time in Los Angeles, writing dialogue for television shows like Mission: Impossible.
When asked if he wanted to be a writer, Gary Paulsen said that it was a sudden and unexpected change of heart.
“I’d been an engineer in aerospace and pushed back from the work desk one night and headed for Hollywood to find writers and learn how to write,” added the novelist.
In the last years of his life, the novelist had a dog kennel in Alaska, a horse in New Mexico at his ranch, and a sailboat on the Pacific.
Paulsen died from cardiac arrest at his home in Tularosa, New Mexico.
Photo credit: Tim Keating