ST. PAUL — Gary Paulsen once said, “The most important thing you can do is read.”
He went on to exhort people to read everywhere: “Read all the time; read when they tell you not to read, what 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.”
Paulsen provided lots of material for those following his instructions.
He wrote more than 200 books for children and adults. Some 35 million copies of his books have been sold.
Paulsen, who was born in Minneapolis, died Wednesday, Oct. 13, at age 82.
Three of his novels, “Hatchet,” “Dogsong” and “The Winter Room” won prestigious Newbery honors. “Hatchet,” Paulsen’s story of a 13-year-old boy living alone in the woods, became a staple of school reading programs and inspired many young people to explore the outdoors.
He told MPR in 1996 that the response to “Hatchet” was overwhelming.
“It struck something, a chord in people, that is really strange. It is wonderful,” he said. “And really, I get about 200 letters a day. And I have for years, and that's almost a constant — between 200-300 a day. And I answer them."
By that point, in the days before email, he reckoned he had received 300,000 letters. He said a huge percentage asked questions about the ending of “Hatchet.”
Many of his stories are about people involved in a struggle, and he told MPR News in 1996 that this reflected his own childhood growing up with parents with alcoholism.
"And I think that kind of leaks through, becomes inherent. I noticed I was doing a lot of books about survival and about wilderness stuff,” he said, again in 1996. “And I realized when I was a kid, I kind of fostered myself to the woods. They were drunk all the time, so I would just head to the woods. That became part of my life and how I write, too."
As a teenager, Paulsen ran away from home and traveled with a carnival. He went on to have numerous adventures including twice running the Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska. At one point he and his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, had 90 dogs. They lived in Minnesota for many years but spent the last years of his life in New Mexico.
Random House Children's Book said Paulsen’s belief in young people drove him to write. His final novel, “Northwind,” will be published in January 2022.
He is survived by his wife and son.