I grew up on the American prairie in more ways than one.
While many of my classmates spent their elementary summer vacations on cruises, wandering crowded amusement parks, or flying across the country, my family preferred to visit nature preserves and other natural wonders, usually within just a few hours drive of home. My imagination blossomed as I was surrounded by stories of Native history, images of ancient buffalo herds, and hardy prairie scrub. I can still smell the sweetness of the tall grass in summer, feel the pressing heat of the sun, and hear grasshoppers singing lazy, scratchy songs. To this day I jump at the chance to escape the city in favor of wide open fields and obscure hiking trails. The landscape of the American prairie is irrevocably connected to how I came to be where and who I am.
There is another version of the American prairie which also played a part in shaping my childhood: the one depicted in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Thanks to an older sister and the television series of the same name, I was familiar with the series before I could read the books for myself. As soon as I was able to read them, I fell in love just like so many others. I imagined playing with Laura in my backyard, learned how to bake gingerbread, and even attempted to sew a bonnet. Laura and her family were some of my childhood heroes, and my interest in them did not wane as I grew up.
My taste in literature may have developed over time, but I still have a strong affection for all things Little House. Today I’m celebrating a recently-published biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder which has already received many accolades, including the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. While I have not yet read it, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is high on my to-read list. In it, Caroline Fraser voices years of research exploring the idea of an American “mythology of self-reliance,” Laura’s relationships with various family members, and other aspects of historical life on the prairie.
Congratulations, Caroline Fraser! I look forward to reading Prairie Fires and continuing to learn about the influential landscape and literature of my childhood.
To learn more about the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists, as well as those from previous years, visit the Pulitzer website.
Photo by Jana Tenbrook.