A lady in her 60s, a woman who never graduated from high school, sits down to write and produces one of the most famous literary series in American history.
Now, some 80 years later, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series remains among the most widely celebrated and recognized of books documenting the American pioneer experience.
Is this possible?
Pamela Smith Hill argues yes. In her book, “Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life,” Hill carefully outlines the writing, editing and overall collaboration between Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, in the creation of the Little House series.
Others have made the case that it was Lane, a widely published and nationally recognized writer, who really authored the series.
But Hill argues Wilder’s experience, voice and writing ultimately carried the work and she was therefore deserving of the byline.
Hill succeeds in her task; explaining how Wilder learned at a young age to describe her surroundings in vivid detail for the benefit of her blind sister, demonstrating Wilder’s early writing ability in her work for regional agricultural publications, and contrasting Wilder’s voice with that of her daughter to show how it is the former that carries through in the Little House series.
Although Hill is occasionally repetitive in her explanation of the writing and editing process, this book is a great read for understanding the tense and ultimately successful collaboration between Wilder and Lane that went into writing, editing, publishing and marketing the Little House series.
The work is Wilder’s own, but it could not have succeeded without Lane’s editing skill and publishing industry expertise. But Hill also documents evidence of Wilder’s growing confidence in her storytelling and marketing ability as she proceeded through the series, while Lane found herself facing a real test of confidence. She had always thought of and treated her mother as an amateur writer – perhaps rightfully so given Lane’s wide publishing experience – but it became clear as the Little House project progressed that it was Wilder who was producing the expansive, influential and multi-part series that Lane had always imagined she herself would author.
Relationships between writers tend to be highly competitive, a fact that makes this ultimately successful effort between mother and daughter – a relationship that comes with its own intensity – all the more remarkable.
Hill is currently working on a new biography of Wilder, based on Wilder’s original adult literature manuscript “Pioneer Girl.” Wilder acknowledged there were quite a few stories from her childhood that she left out or glossed over in the Little House series since she was producing children’s literature. Did Pa kill a serial murderer terrorizing settlers in Kansas? Pack up the family in the middle of the night and skip town in Iowa to avoid paying the rent?
The book is due out later this year, so it looks like we’ll have to wait until then to find out the details.