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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder - Caroline Fraser - <span class="date-display-single">09/27/2018 - 6:00pm</span>

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

09/27/2018 - 6:00pm

Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium

Presented in partnership with the Friends of UW-Madison Libraries, the 2017 Schewe Lecture features Pulitzer Prize winner, Caroline Fraser, speaking about her new book, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.


Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls—the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains, and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser—the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series—masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder's tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.


The Little House books, for all the hardships they describe, are paeans to the pioneer spirit, portraying it as triumphant against all odds. But Wilder’s real life was harder and grittier than that, a story of relentless struggle, rootlessness, and poverty. It was only in her sixties, after losing nearly everything in the Great Depression, that she turned to children’s books, recasting her hardscrabble childhood as a celebratory vision of homesteading—and achieving fame and fortune in the process, in one of the most astonishing rags-to-riches episodes in American letters.


Spanning nearly a century of epochal change, from the Indian Wars to the Dust Bowl, Wilder’s dramatic life provides a unique perspective on American history and our national mythology of self-reliance. With fresh insights and new discoveries, Prairie Fires reveals the complex woman whose classic stories grip us to this day.

Caroline Fraser

About Presenter Caroline Fraser


Caroline Fraser is the editor of the Library of America edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and the author of three works of nonfiction—God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (Metropolitan, 1999), Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (Metropolitan, 2009), and Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan, 2017). One of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of the Year, Prairie Fires won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. It was also the winner of BIO International’s 2018 Plutarch Award and the finalist for the Mark Lynton History Prize, given by the Columbia Journalism School.


Fraser has given talks on Wilder and other topics to groups large and small, at schools, public libraries, conferences, and universities. Her writing has appeared in The New York Review of BooksThe New YorkerThe Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and the London Review of Books, among other publications.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Prairie Fires

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