Gary James Paulsen (May 17, 1939 – October 13, 2021) was an American writer of children's and young adult fiction, best known for coming of age stories about the wilderness. He was the author of more than 200 books and wrote more than 200 magazine articles and short stories, and several plays, all primarily for teenagers. He won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1997 for his lifetime contribution in writing for teens.
Gary Paulsen was born on May 17, 1939, in Minneapolis to Oscar Paulsen and Eunice Paulsen, née Moen. His father was a career Army officer who departed soon after Gary’s birth to join General Patton’s staff. Gary next saw his father at age 7 when he and his mother sailed to the Philippines to join him at his Army base. He and his mother lived in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. When Gary was 4, his mother took him to live in Chicago. Before World War II ended, she sent him to live with relatives on a farm for a year.
Paulsen graduated from Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. He attended Bemidji State University, but dropped out. He claimed to have joined the Army at age 17, which age he reached in 1956; his service seems to have begun when he was 19 or 20, in 1959. He served in the United States Army between 1959 and 1962, attaining the rank of sergeant while working with missiles. His Army service brought him to New Mexico for a while, a place in which he later chose to settle.
Mr. Paulsen’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In the mid-1960s, Paulsen moved to Taos, New Mexico, where he met his third wife Ruth Wright. In 1971, Paulsen married Ruth, who illustrates children's literature. Paulsen had two children from his first marriage, Lynn and Lance, and a son Jim from his third marriage with Ruth Wright. Although a successful author, Paulsen said he chose to live modestly. He lived throughout New Mexico, including in Santa Fe, La Luz, White Oaks, and Tularosa. He also spent time living on a houseboat on the Pacific Ocean.
In 1983, Paulsen entered the 1,150-mile (1,850 km) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and placed 41st out of 54 finishers, with an official time of 17 days, 12 hours, 38 minutes, and 38 seconds. In 1990, suffering from heart disease, Paulsen decided to give up dog sledding, which he described as the most difficult decision he had ever made. Paulsen would spend more than a decade sailing the Pacific before getting back into dog sledding in 2003. According to his keynote speech on October 13, 2007, at the Sinclair Lewis writing conference in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, he still intended to compete in the Iditarod. He is listed in the "Withdrawn/Scratched" section of the 1985 and 2006 Iditarod. Paulsen was an outdoorsman (a hunter and trapper), who maintained a 40-acre (160,000 m ) parcel north of Willow, Alaska, where he bred and trained sled dogs for the Iditarod.
The ALA Margaret Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work for a "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature". Paulsen won the annual award in 1997, when the panel cited six books published from 1983 to 1990: Dancing Carl, Hatchet (first in the series), The Crossing, The Winter Room, Canyons, and Woodsong. The citation noted that "[t]he theme of survival is woven throughout, whether it is living through a plane crash or living in an abusive, alcoholic household" and emphasized Hatchet in particular for "encompassing a survival theme in all its aspects, physical as well as psychological".
Paulsen died from cardiac arrest at his home in Tularosa on October 13, 2021, at age 82.