Gary Paulsen, author, adventurer, and inspiration to generations of young readers, died October 13 at his home in New Mexico. He was 82.
In his most recent book, Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood, Paulsen recounted how he would escape from his parent’s alcoholism by either going into the forest for a long walk, or by finding refuge in the local library. Those two safe places led him inevitably to a career in writing. His 1986 book, Hatchet, recipient of the first of three Newbery Honors, drew on those childhood memories in the telling of a plane crash and the young sole survivor who, finding himself lost in the woods, had to find his way to safety using just his wits and a simple hatchet.
In all he wrote more than 200 books, finding time along the way to lead an adventurous life himself. Twice he even competed in the grueling Iditarod Alaskan dogsled race.
As a speaker at a number of SCBWI conferences he was generous, forthcoming, and fiercely opinionated, especially when it came to the importance of reading.
His publisher, Penguin Random House, quoted him as saying, “The most, MOST, important thing is to read. Read all the time: read when they tell you not to read, read with a flashlight under the covers, read on the bus, standing on a corner, waiting for a friend, in the dentist’s waiting room. Read every minute you can. READ LIKE A WOLF EATS. Read.”
The SCBWI joins his family, his friends, and millions of his readers in mourning his passing.
In 1997 he was presented the Margaret A. Edwards Award for his lifetime contribution to young adult literature. That lifetime contribution will extend far beyond his own life as coming generations continue to be inspired and enlightened by his words.
He was an extraordinary writer, a towering figure in our world.