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He Taught a Generation About Life in the Wild

'Hatchet' author Gary Paulsen dies at 82
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2021 7:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – Gary Paulsen, the beloved author of more than 200 books about adventure and survival in the wilderness, died Wednesday, according to Publishers Weekly. He was 82. It's sad news not only for those who knew the three-time Newbery Honor author—including his wife, the artist and author Ruth Wright Paulsen—but also for those who read his words. "I know many mushers—myself included—who first fell in love with mushing through Gary Paulsen's stories about his sled dogs," tweeted Blair Braverman, an adventurer, writer, and contributing editor for Outside magazine, per Vulture. "He changed lives in big ways; he wrote about wilderness, animals, fear, wonder with extraordinary grace. An incredible writer. May he rest in peace."

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The Minnesota native's 1994 memoir Winterdance, about his experience running the grueling 1,180-mile Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska in 1983, was the inspiration for the 2002 Disney film Snow Dogs. But the author was perhaps best known for Hatchet, the 1986 young adult novel about a boy stranded alone in the Canadian wilderness following a plane crash, which served as the inspiration for the 1990 film A Cry in the Wild. The outdoorsman who faced plenty of hardships wrote from experience, which is why his work felt so authentic, as the Wall Street Journal noted with the release of Paulsen's final memoir this past January.

Gone to the Woods told of Paulsen's harrowing childhood trauma and neglect but also of the respite he found in nature. He recalled canoeing with his uncle as a young boy and feeling as though he "had become folded into [nature]." "The moment was so pure, so profound, that he caught himself holding his breath," he wrote, per the Journal. He spoke of struggling to read in elementary school but was encouraged by a public librarian and, after a stint in the army, discovered his love of writing. He thanked his many readers—whom he encouraged to "read like a wolf eats"—in a 2020 interview with Scholastic. "Writing for you is just about the greatest thing I've ever known, along with dogs and the wilderness," he said. (Read more obituary stories.)

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