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In honor of Women’s History Month, Missouri State University has brought author Pamela Smith Hill back to her Ozarks roots to speak about another famous Missourian: Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pamela has written several books, including two on Wilder's life and work. Hill will give a free lecture Tuesday night at MSU to the Springfield community. She stopped by the KSMU studios during her visit to campus and shared with Rebekah Clark her fascination with the legendary writer.
“From the time I was about eight, I decided I either wanted to be a writer or a professional baseball player…” said Hill.
Hill was a native of the Ozarks and a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. She once wrote a letter to her favorite, Harry Caray, back in the 50’s.
“Apparently, none of the Cardinals at that time handled their own fan mail, so Harry Caray wrote back. But I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t going to make the major leagues, so writing became much more important. When I went to Hickory Hills, I worked on the newspaper, and then when I went on to Glendale, I continued to study journalism.”
In college, at what was then Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Hill worked as an editor for the school paper, and developed a passion of learning about history. Her love of reading, writing, and local history gave way to her fascination for local heroine: Laura Ingalls Wilder.
“In envisioned that writers lived in New York City and they wore elegant suits, but I was a preacher’s kid, and that kind of life seemed completely unattainable to me. And then, I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder, and that she did all of her writing here in the Ozarks. For me, that was really encouraging. She just felt very comforting to me: if she can do it, maybe I can do it, and maybe I don’t have to live in New York City.”
Hill went on to research Wilder's life and published an award-winning biography called Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, along with three young adult novels. Her latest book, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: An Annotated Edition appears on shelves later this year.
She says Wilder's contributions to literature are classics, and that they stand alongside Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott.
"Of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder books kind of come in and out of fashion, but there’s always this bedrock solid readership. I think if parents want their children to have a good sense of children’s literature, they need to introduce their children to at least one or two of the books.”
I asked her how children’s historical fiction in today’s market compares to say, popular fantasy works, like Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games.
“Before Harry Potter, if you told an editor you were working on a young adult fantasy, they would have told you, ‘Oh, go write something more contemporary.’ So there are trends in children’s literature that come and go. I think children today may need some encouragement to read some of the classics in the field. Even the book Charlotte’s Web may need some gentle guidance from a parent or from a teacher.”
She says that doesn’t necessarily mean that children have to read every historical young adult work on the market. Sometimes, she says, it might be better for the young reader to just be exposed to certain books within a series that they might relate to.
During her lecture, Hill will talk about her connection with Ingalls, and the author’s significance to the literary world. Hill also plans to teach a creative writing class on campus for young writers. Her lectures are a part of the month-long celebration of women’s history.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.
ANCHOR TAG: That public presentation is Tuesday night at 7 in Missouri State University's Meyer Library, Room 101.