Celebrating PIONEER GIRL: THE ANNOTATED AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Originally posted November 26, 2014

Today—the day before Thanksgiving—my copies of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography arrived.  I began work on this project back in 2010.  I can’t say that the four years I’ve worked on Wilder’s autobiography are the most I’ve ever devoted to a book.  I began The Last Grail Keeper in the 1980s, set it aside, wrote two other novels, and then finally saw Grail published in 2001.   But I will say that during the last four years, Laura Ingalls Wilder took over my life—even more so than during the two years I researched and wrote Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life.   

Just to give you an idea—I wrote over twelve hundred annotations for Pioneer Girl.  This book has been my greatest creative challenge—how to be true to Wilder, her work, and her devoted readers; how to create something worthy of Wilder’s legacy; how to find my own voice through hers.  Even today, when the books were delivered—in three big cardboard boxes—Pioneer Girl proved to be something of a challenge.   The Fed Ex driver left those three big boxes just inches away from my front door.  I had to suck in my breath, squeeze around the storm door and the boxes, then re-position them before I could open the front door wide enough to carry them inside.

But I’m not complaining.  Bringing Pioneer Girl to publication has been a tremendous honor. Wilder finished her rough draft in May 1930, and sent off an edited, typewritten version to her daughter’s literary agent later that month, hoping for a sale and publication.  Now a lifetime later—eighty-four years, to be exact—her book is finally in print.   I’m grateful to the Little House Heritage Trust for entrusting this book to me and to the South Dakota State Historical Society Press.

So how did I celebrate today?  It’s the night before Thanksgiving and I’m hosting dinner for thirteen people tomorrow.  So no night out on the town for me.  Instead I warmed up a traditional and very humble Ozarks supper—beans and cornbread.  But I drank a glass of my favorite wine—a beautiful white Oregon pinot noir, far too sophisticated and elegant for beans and cornbread.  But it added distinction to my supper, and made it special.    And for dessert:  my favorite chocolate gelato with homemade molasses cookies from a friend.

And I have to say that, for the first time in my career, the publication of one of my books has come with surprising fanfare.  Radio and television interviews, online as well as magazine and newspaper articles.  Encouraging reviews.  This has never happened to me before.  Usually my new books arrive, no one notices, and I dive into writing my next book.   But I have no illusions about all this fanfare.  It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Laura Ingalls Wilder—and her enduring legacy. 

Tonight, I hope her ghost approves of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography and is also celebrating its release on this Thanksgiving eve.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!                                             

Holly Atkinson