Gary Paulsen, author of 'Hatchet,' more coming-of-age wilderness stories, dies 'suddenly' at 82
Gary Paulsen, the children's author best known for "Hatchet" and other coming-of-age stories set in the wilderness, has died at age 82.
"It was Paulsen’s overwhelming belief in young people that drove him to write," read a remembrance provided to USA TODAY by Ellis. "His desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them brought him both enormous popularity with young people and critical acclaim from the children’s book community."
His most well-known book, "Hatchet" (1986), tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who must learn to survive on his own when a plane crash leaves him stranded in the wilderness with only a hatchet as a resource. It nabbed him one of his three Newbery Honor awards, which he also won for "The Winter Room" and "Dogsong."
In all, he wrote more than 200 titles, mostly for young adults but a few targeted to adults. In 1997, the American Library Association awarded Paulsen the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature.
"I was sitting one night and I thought, 'I have to be a writer,' " Paulsen recalled in a January interview with the American Writers Museum. "I'm not sure why that had to happen then. I'd come to read sometimes two books a day. I read all the time. I tell young people to read like a wolf eats. Just read until you can't stand it. Read until it's all you are."
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Paulsen's most recent book, a memoir titled "Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood," arrived in January. Meant for middle-grade audiences, it drew some similarities to "Hatchet" but described pivotal moments in Paulsen's own adolescence, when he would cope with his parents' alcoholism by finding refuge in the woods or the library.
"I kept thinking, 'I hope the little bugger makes it,' " Paulsen said of writing about his young self. "I would remember things that were just horrific and things I would not want to see now, even as an adult. I was astonished I got through them."
Paulsen's writing reflected a life-long appreciation for nature: He grew up hunting and trapping, and as an adult trained dogs for Alaska's annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which he competed in twice.
"I started to feel like there was no dividing line between nature and me," he said in January. "I think we are all natural people. When you run dogs alone, you run a thousand miles with a dog team, you understand a primitive exultation. You go back 30,000 years, you and the dogs. It's incredible and you're never normal again."
The writer divided his time between his home in Alaska, his ranch in New Mexico, and his sailboat on the Pacific Ocean, according to his Penguin Random House bio.
Paulsen's final novel, "Northwind," is slated to be published next January. He is survived by his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, and their son.
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