Not only will Pamela Smith Hill be busy editing and annotating Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography in the coming months, she'll be blogging about it, too.

The website PioneerGirlProject.org is dedicated to the process by which the South Dakota State Historical Society Press will bring Wilder's life story to fruition as a hardcover book containing at least 70 historical photographs. Currently scheduled for publication in June 2013, her autobiography has taken more than eight decades and five revisions to find its way to print. First penned in 1930 in longhand pencil on a Big Chief writing tablet — as all her books were — when Wilder was 63, it has never been published before. 

"We're going to publish the original draft ... because it gets us very, very close to Laura Ingalls Wilder's original voice," Hill said. She acknowledges that, like any writer, Wilder might "cringe to have her rough draft published."

Wilder tried to sell her autobiography during her lifetime, without success, creating several different versions of it in the process. She found literary fame, finally, when "Pioneer Girl" was repackaged as shorter novels for young readers that became the classic "Little House" series, but the original manuscript never saw print.

Many of the scenes in those novels are taken straight from the pages of "Pioneer Girl," Hill said. "Nine times out of 10, she went back to the original 'Pioneer Girl' for scenes from her novels." 

"Pioneer Girl: An Annotated Edition" will be aimed at adults who read and loved the books as children, as well as scholars interested in addressing critical literary questions about Wilder's famous "Little House on the Prairie" books, Hill said.

Both of those target audiences describe Hill, a Portland, Ore., author also wrote the 2007 biography, "Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life," for the SDSHSP.

For "Pioneer Girl," Hill will contribute essays, notes and biographical sketches of people and places that Wilder writes about.

"I'll be writing annotations, based on concepts from the text," she said. 

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For the dedicated website, she'll provide occasional blog posts and videos about her research and writing. The website also will feature:

  • Content by all the major parties involved in the publication of the book
  • Never-before-seen photographs
  • Regular updates to keep fans in the know
  • A behind-the-scenes look at the publishing process

Hill was last at the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Missouri in November 2011, when she and press staffer Nancy Tystad Koupal got access to the original manuscript and other important documents. 

Editing an annotated autobiography is a "different challenge" than writing biography or fiction, another of Hill's passions as a writer. In addition to the Wilder biography, she is the author of several novels for young adults.  Not only must she be historically accurate, but also "true to Wilder's original vision" for her autobiography.

Hill, who grew up in the Missouri Ozarks about 40 miles from the Wilders' Rocky Ridge Farm, was first drawn to Wilder's books as a 10-year-old girl who wanted to be a writer herself. She revisited the books as an adult who graduated from the University of South Dakota and moved to Pierre in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While working for the state tourism department, she wrote often about Wilder's connections to South Dakota and came to appreciate "how good a writer she was.

"Her books are beautifully crafted novels, whether they are for children or not," Hill said.

The combination of Hills' knowledge of Ingalls family history, as well as her experience in the young adult fiction market, made her a logical choice to write a Wilder biography and to edit her autobiography.


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Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com

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