Gary Paulsen Biography

Start Your Free Trial

Gary Paulsen Biography

Gary Paulsen, a highly prolific writer, has one hobby that not many other authors enjoy: he loves to participate in dog sledding competitions. Perhaps it’s not so strange, then, that most of Paulsen’s stories and novels focus on themes of nature and man’s struggle to find himself through outdoor pursuits. His books are especially popular with young men who are in the process of discovering themselves. Paulsen has won many prestigious awards, including the Newbery Medal for his novel The Winter Room, and his books Woodsong and Winterdance are perhaps the most famous books ever written about the Iditarod, a 1,150-mile dog sledding race. Paulsen resides in New Mexico, but he also owns a ranch in Alaska where he breeds and trains—can you guess?—sled dogs.

Facts and Trivia

  • Paulsen ran away from home and joined a carnival when he was just fourteen. After that, he had many different jobs—engineer, truck driver, sailor, and satellite technician.
  • Gary Paulsen’s earliest writing job was as a magazine proofreader in Hollywood, California. He left that job for a cabin in Minnesota where he completed his first novel within a few months.
  • Paulsen is extremely critical of modern technology and tries to live a simple life.
  • Paulsen’s body of work includes over two hundred books, two hundred articles and stories, and many plays.
  • Paulsen and his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, currently own a boat in the Pacific, and he is in the process of writing about their many adventures. His wife is an artist and has done the illustrations for many of his novels.

Download Gary Paulsen Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Upon first glance, Gary Paulsen bears strong resemblance to his oft-compared-to literary antecedent Ernest Hemingway. Ubiquitous with a grayed beard, worn denims, and a fishing cap, Paulsen appears to be a surviving vestige of one of his own stories. Born May 17, 1939, in Minneapolis to Oscar, a military officer, and Eunice, a factory worker in a munitions plant, Paulsen led a nomadic life in his early years as a self-proclaimed army brat.

The constant uprooting caused by his father’s military career placed stress on the Paulsen household. In fact, Paulsen claims not to have even met his father until he was seven when the family was stationed in the Philippines. Even then, Paulsen recalls spending most of his time wandering the streets of Manila alone looking for adventure because of his parents’ strained relationship. This tension in his family played havoc with the young Paulsen. He remembers his mother as a promiscuous, if not adulterous, wife who constantly abandoned her commitment to both her husband, who himself was struggling with alcoholism, and her son. Paulsen found security, though, in his early teens when he left his parents to live stateside with more stable relatives—his grandmother and various aunts.

It was during this transition period that Paulsen, somewhat serendipitously, fell into his future career as a writer. Though never a dedicated academic—he barely graduated high school and only completed parcels of time at Bemidji College in 1957-1958 and the University of Colorado in 1976—Paulsen was a reader. He became so only by chance when, on a frigid winter day during his youth, he entered a public library to warm himself. When the librarian offered him a library card and introduced him to westerns, science fiction, and the occasional classic, Paulsen recalls having a great thirst in his life finally slaked. He became a steady and omnivorous reader.

That hunger for reading would be one of the few constants in Paulsen’s early and multifaceted career; he became a renaissance man of sorts by virtue of necessity. To pay for his first college experience, he became a hunter and trapper for the state of Minnesota; he would later return to that line of work in the late 1970’s aided by a team of sled dogs donated by a friend. Between that time, Paulsen served with the Army from 1959 to 1962, became a field engineer, falsified his own resume in order to pursue...

(The entire section is 4,394 words.)