Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 917
Born: May 17, 1939
Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline
Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!
Birthplace: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Tucket Adventures series (1969–2000)
The Winter Room (1989)
The River (1991)
Alida series (1991–2004)
Woods Runner (2010)
Gary Paulsen has written approximately two hundred of books during his career, including, perhaps most famously, the 1987 survival classic Hatchet, about a thirteen-year-old boy who survives a plane crash. He has been a finalist for the Newbery Medal three times. An adventurer, Paulsen eschews human company (outside of his wife and children) for the solitude of the wilderness, the thrill of dog racing, or the open sea. Among his many adventures, Paulsen participated in the Alaskan Iditarod and rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycle from New Mexico to Alaska when he was sixty (which he chronicled in the 1997 memoir Zero to Sixty: The Motorcycle Journey of a Lifetime). Paulsen imbues his characters—from Hatchet's Brian Robeson to a real-life slave-turned-field marshal named Bass Reeves—with prodigious survival skills and a focus on self-reliance.
Paulsen was born on May 17, 1939, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Chicago; Manila, Philippines, where his father was stationed after World War II; and, later, on a chicken farm in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. His parents, Oscar and Eunice, were poor, and they drank and fought incessantly. They were also tough: when a drunk tried to molest Paulsen when he was four, his mother kicked the drunk to death. (His first nine years were so eventful—often horrifically so—that he wrote a book about them in 1993 called Eastern Sun, Winter Moon.) Early on, Paulsen learned to fend for himself. He pretended to sell newspapers in bars to steal money from patrons when they were too drunk to notice. Sometimes he would run away to a relative's house or simply into the woods, where (like his characters) he would hunt and scavenge to survive.
Paulsen was a voracious reader as a teen, though he hated school. At seventeen, he forged his father's signature to join the Army, where he studied electrical engineering. In 1962, he tested missiles in White Sands, New Mexico. In 1965, he left his first wife and two children to move to Hollywood. He wrote dialogue for the television series Mission Impossible (1966–73) and the film The Reivers (1969) starring Steve McQueen. In 1966, with his second wife Pam, he moved to an isolated cabin in Minnesota and wrote his first book, a collection of essays about the missile industry called Some Birds Don't Fly (1968).
After his second book was published, Paulsen left his wife and moved to Taos, New Mexico. For six years he drank and got into fights. Eventually, he met an artist named Ruth Wright, whom he later married and with whom he had a son, Jim. (Ruth Wright Paulsen has illustrated some of Paulsen's books for children.) The couple moved to a remote cabin in Minnesota. Paulsen sobered up and began to write prolifically, producing nearly seven books a year throughout the 1970s. In 1983, he ran his first Iditarod, and he participated in his last in 2006 at the age of sixty-five. His book about the race, called Dogsong (1985), effectively made his career. Published in 1990, Woodsong is a nonfiction account of the Iditarod. The publication of Paulsen's most famous novel, Hatchet, in 1987 changed the quality of his family's life forever. He and his family moved to a house with a washer, dryer, and running toilet near the small town of Bemidji. Paulsen keeps a cabin in Minnesota, a house in Alaska, and another in New Mexico; he also spends time in the Pacific Ocean on his boat.
Paulsen's most famous novel is Hatchet, about a thirteen-year-old survivor of a plane crash named Brian. It has remained one of the bestselling YA books in print. It received a Newbery Honor, meaning that it was a finalist for the prestigious Newbery Medal. His other two Newberry Honor books are Dogsong (1985) and The Winter Room (1989), about two boys who live on a farm. In Hatchet, Brian must learn to fend for himself in the unforgiving Canadian wilderness with only a hatchet. A classic of survival literature, the book demonstrates the cruelty of nature and the resourcefulness of man. Paulsen's writing is escapist as well. Hatchet was the first of a series called Brian's Saga. Paulsen's other series include the Tucket Adventures series (1969–2000), about a boy on the Oregon Trail who is captured by Pawnee Indians; the Alida series (1991–2004), about a boy living on his grandmother's farm; and a Western series for adults centered on a character named Murphy (1987–1996).
- Royte, Elizabeth. “Grumpy Old Man and the Sea: Adventures with Gary Paulsen.” Outside Online. Outside, 23 May 2013. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/media/books/Gary-Paulsen-Grumpy-Old-Man-and-the-Sea.html>.
- Schmitz, James A. “Gary Paulsen: A Writer of His Time.” ALAN Review 22.1 (1994). Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/fall94/Schmitz.html>.
- Sides, Anne Goodwin. “On the Road and Between the Pages, an Author Is Restless for Adventure.” New York Times. New York Times, 26 Aug. 2006. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/26/books/26paul.html>.
- Corbett, Sue. Gary Paulsen. New York: Cavendish, 2014. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
- Paulsen, Gary, and Jim Paulsen. Interview by Sally Lodge. “Q&A with Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen.” Publisher's Weekly. PWxyz, 6 Dec. 2012. Web. 3 Mar. 2015. <http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/55019-q-a-with-gary-paulsen-and-jim-paulsen.html>.
- Somers, Joseph Michael. “Gary Paulsen.” Magill's Survey of American Literature. Rev. ed. Ipswich: Salem, 2006. Biography Reference Center. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
- Wheeler, Jill C. Gary Paulsen. [N.p.]: ABDO, 2015. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 Mar. 2015.