SANTA FE – Caroline Fraser of Santa Fe said she was stunned to learn Monday that she’d won a Pulitzer Prize for her rags-to-riches biography of the author of the “Little House on the Prairie” series of books.
“I don’t think I’ve completely processed it yet,” said Fraser, author of “Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” in a telephone interview.
The Pulitzer announcement came out of the blue — finalists are not announced ahead of time for the prestigious annual awards for writing, reporting, photography and music.
Fraser said there were a number of great biographies written in the past year and she was fortunate to win. “This is an incredible honor,” she said. The other two finalists in her category were books on President Richard Nixon and poet Robert Lowell.
Of Fraser’s book, the Pulitzer committee said, “A deeply researched and elegantly written portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series, that describes how Wilder transformed her family’s story of poverty, failure and struggle into an uplifting tale of self-reliance, familial love and perseverance.”
Fraser said that “just like everybody else” she read Wilder’s books as a child “and loved them and read them over and over again.” And she had a personal connection to Wilder’s stories from her grandparents and family members who had farming backgrounds from Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas. From them, she learned of “what as a pretty hard life for a lot of people.”
Fraser wrote a long piece about Wilder roughly 20 years ago for the New York Review of Books and has served as editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series.
“There was such fascinating history there,” she said, she decided to undertake a new biography of Wilder, who turned to writing children’s books in her 60s after losing nearly everything in the Great Depression. The “Little House” series follows a family of pioneers who homestead on the American prairie.
In March, Fraser’s book won the National Book Critics Circle’s 2018 award for biography.
Fraser has long been an accomplished writer. She was on the editorial staff of The New Yorker and also wrote the non-fiction books “God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church” and “Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution.”
She and husband Hal Espen, who worked for Santa Fe-based Outside magazine, moved to Santa Fe in 1996. Fraser was born in Seattle and has a PhD from Harvard in English and American literature.
Her Pulitzer prize comes with $15,000