FILE - Prairie Lights is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Biographer to read at Prairie Lights about her walk on the Wilder side

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Caroline Fraser will read from her new biography about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie,” series.

By Natalie Betz

natalie-betz@uiowa.edu

Biographer Caroline Fraser has released her new book, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which explores the real life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the *Little House on the Prairie* series.

At 7 p.m. today, Fraser will read from the biography at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.

At Prairie Lights, Fraser will shed some light on some of Wilder’s life. While she is best known for her Little House on the Prairie series, as Fraser began to research the woman, she learned about the true hardships she faced. While the series is may be considered Wilder’s autobiography, as Fraser dug deeper into the Wilder family history, some things didn’t add up.

While writing her book, Fraser learned about the history of “yellow journalism,” what people in 2017 might refer to as “fake news,” Fraser said.

Wilder’s daughter Rose was a journalist for the San Francisco Bulletin in the early 1900s, Fraser said. However, the San Francisco Bulletin was a William Randolph Hearst paper, and Rose was trained to write fake stories to catch peoples’ attention.

Fraser had a difficult time sorting through past documentation of Wilder’s life, because Rose wrote many of them, it can be hard to detect what is real and what is not or to remove bias. In addition, many historic documents regarding Wilder have been lost, Fraser said.

One curious aspect that came with researching the biography was learning Laura and Rose both claimed that the Little House books were a full recount of their lives, she said.

The autobiographical Little House on the Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867–1957) occupy a curious space between national mythology, self-reinvention, and truth…,” a review by Publisher Weekly said.

In order to help her research be accurate and truthful, Fraser was able to recover many diaries and other helpful documents at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, Fraser said.

In a review for Publisher’s Weekly, it states, “Meticulously tracing the Ingalls and Wilder family’s experiences through public records and private documents, Fraser discovers failed farm ventures and constant money problems, as well as natural disasters even more terrifying and devastating in real life than in Wilder’s writing. She also helpfully puts Wilder’s narrow world into larger historical context.”

Fraser’s interest in Wilder’s life was not recent, she said. In fact, it is an interest that spans many years.

“I’ve been working on Wilder for many years, since I worked on the new edition of the Little House book at the Library of America,” Fraser explained.

In the future, she hopes to release more biographies of sorts, but for now, she said she’s busy trying to keep up with promoting.

What: Caroline Fraser reading of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque

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