Gary Paulsen

(1939-2021), American

Gary Paulsen was a three-time winner of the Newberry Honor Award. He lived an eventful life, one as interesting as most of his stories. He authored over 200 books and won the Newberry Honor Award three times. ‘Hatchet’ is arguably his most popular book.

Life Facts

  • Gary Paulsen was born on May 17, 1939, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.
  • Gary graduated from Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
  • He dropped out of Bemidji University and joined the U.S. Army where he served for roughly three years.
  • Gary met his father for the first time at the age of 9.
  • Gary Paulsen got married three times. His first two marriages ended in divorce.
  • For his third marriage, Gary got married to Ruth, a children’s book illustrator, in 1971.
  • It was at Taos, New Mexico, he met Ruth Wright.
  • His first marriage produced two children, and his third child is from his third marriage.
  • His last book, ‘Northwind‘, was published a little over one year after his passing.
  • Gary had two siblings: Paulette and Bill.

Interesting Facts

  • At some point, Gary Paulsen lived on a farm with relatives for one year.
  • As a teenager, Gary spent hours reading and building in his basement.
  • He lived in the Philippines for some time because his father worked there.
  • Gary ran away from home at the age of 14. He became more adventurous after that.
  • Gary Paulsen described his mother as an alcoholic and talked about the affair she had.
  • Gary wasn’t particularly a bright student, however, he excelled in writing.

Famous Books by Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen wrote mostly fiction for children and young adults. He was known for his coming-of-age stories, especially stories about the wilderness. With a career in writing spanning 55 years, in addition to the 200 books, Gary also has up to 200 magazine articles and several plays to his name. Some of his most popular works are: ‘Hatchet,’ ‘Dogsong,’ ‘Woodsong,’ ‘Winterdance,’ and ‘The Winter Room.’ ‘Hatchet’ is arguably his most popular book.

Hatchet’ – is a young adult adventure story about Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old boy who crash-lands in a desert with only a hatchet and the strong will to survive. It explores resilience, nature, and gratitude as themes.

Dogsong’ – follows Russel Susskit, a fourteen-year-old boy, and his team of dogs as he relinquishes the modern ways. Determination and perseverance are some of the main themes Dogsong focuses on.

Winterdance’ – is about Gary Paulsen himself. We follow him as he participates in a 1150-mile race. A winter sled-dog race. He drains his bank account for this. Similar to what is obtainable in most of his books, determination is a major theme in Winterdance.

The Winter Room’ – follows eleven-year-old Eldon and his people as they live their lives on a farm in Minnesota. The story is told in the first person. It is a coming-of-age story about family and life in general.

Early Life

Gary Paulsen’s father was a career Army Officer who left on a mission soon after Gary Paulsen’s birth. At the age of seven—when WWII ended, he went with his mother to the Philippines to live at General Patton’s place where his father served. This was at his father’s request. Apart from that, Gary lived in many places at different points while growing up. He lived in Chicago at four, and towards the end of the war, his mother sent him to live with some relatives on a farm. He stayed there for a year.
Gary Paulsen wrote an autobiography titled: ‘Eastern Sun, Winter Moon: An Autobiography Odyssey’. In the book, he recounts some of the unpleasant things he witnessed as a child—how one time, his mother beat up a man who wanted to molest him, how his mother had an affair, his mother’s alcoholism, and so on.
On their way to the Philippines, Gary Paulsen and his mother witnessed a plane crash, one that claimed lives. The corpsman with the help of Gary’s mother, helped care for the survivors. Later on, his mother started having an affair with the corpsman.
Gary Paulsen enjoyed reading. He developed that flare after a librarian gave him a book to read. He spent a lot of time building and reading in his basement. ‘Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books’ follows Gary as an adolescent. He didn’t present his parents in a good light. He described his mother as “drinking to stock the refrigerator”, and basically winged things and was between jobs.


Gary Paulsen graduated from Lincoln High School. After that, he enrolled at Bemidji State University. However, he dropped out and joined the U.S. Army, where he served for roughly three years. As a child, Gary picked interest in reading after a librarian gave him a book to read. He didn’t perform excellently in academics, but, he was a gifted writer and he enjoyed reading. As a teenager, he spent hours reading and building in his basement. Much later, he went back to school and graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1976. Gary’s fifty-five-year career in writing compensated for all he didn’t achieve as a student.


Notable amongst the numerous awards won by Gary Paulsen are: John Newberry Medal 1990, 1988, and 1986 for ‘The Winter Room’, ‘Hatchet’ and ‘Dogsong’; Anne V. Narrow Award for Young Reader’s Literature (1997); Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Award (1989) for ‘Hatchet’; Regina Medal (1995); Spur Award for Best Juvenile Fiction (1992); Margaret Edwards Award (1989) for ‘Haymeadow’ and Spur Award for Best Juvenile Nonfiction (1990) for ‘Woodsong’.


Gary Paulsen died on October 13, 2021, in Tularosa, New Mexico, United States. He lived for 82 years and lives on through his books.

Literature by Gary Paulsen

Explore literature by Gary Paulsen below, created by the team at Book Analysis.