Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 17, 1939, Paulsen spent his early years with his grandmother and aunts. His military father was stationed in Europe during World War II, and his mother worked in a munitions factory. After the war, the family lived in the Philippines for a stretch of years before moving constantly, from one military base to another. For a shy boy who didn't excel in athletics, the relocating was difficult. His home life wasn't better, in fact, it was worse. Both parents drank excessively and were sometimes abusive. Paulsen escaped from this situation whenever possible.
One reason for being away from home was to make money. Lacking even the bare essentials, Paulsen worked odd-jobs to provide for himself. He set up bowling pins at a bowling alley and sold newspapers. One cold, bitter night while he went from one place to another with his newspapers, Paulsen peeked into a library. The warm glow of the light beckoned him in from the freezing outdoors. Having never been inside a library before, he couldn't believe it when a librarian loaned him a book and gave him his own library card. This experience opened Paulsen's world and gave him an escape from his home life. Rather than listen to his parents fight, he crept down to the basement of their apartment building with milk, sandwiches, and a book to read next to the furnace.
Desiring more education, Paulsen worked as a trapper, which paid his way through one year at Bemidji College. Afterwards he enrolled in the army and specialized in missiles. Believing he would be involved in electronics for a career, he continued taking correspondence courses and worked in the aerospace industry. Sitting indoors day after day looking at a computer screen nearly drove him crazy, so he lied about his credentials and wound up working as an editor for a men's magazine. This is how his writing career began. His employers realized Paulsen didn't know what he was doing, but they kept him and trained him, allowing him to bring them his own work. By critiquing him, they enabled Paulsen to learn the craft of writing.
After selling his first article, Paulsen thought he could make a living from this profession. He penned more articles and two books, moved to New Mexico to live with other artists, and lost his motivation to work. Paulsen became an alcoholic, following in his parents' footsteps. It took six years for him to regroup and recover, and after returning to Minnesota, he started a new life. He married Ruth Wright, an illustrator, and raised a family while he began writing again, nonfiction and then fiction. His fictional work is what is best-known to the general public because Paulsen wrote from his heart and from experience. Each book represents a part of his life in one way or another. Yet, he had trouble again. For his book Winterkill he was sued, as people thought he had used them as his protagonists. Paulsen won the long court battle, but it left him frustrated and embittered. Perhaps writing wasn't for him after all.
Paulsen quit writing and went back to trapping. He could only cover so much ground on skis; however, when someone gave him dogs and a sled, his distance greatly increased. He hunted to provide for his family, and then in 1983 he used his dogs and sled to train for running the Iditarod into the Arctic Circle. An expensive race, Paulsen realized he couldn't cover the costs. Out of the blue, an editor, Richard Jackson, from Bradbury Press contacted Paulsen to inquire into his writing and ended up paying for the race costs if Paulsen would give him rights to his next book. This deal benefited both parties. Paulsen raced his sled dogs again in the 1985 Iditarod but stopped racing when his body couldn't take any more. Fortunately he had also restarted writing with Jackson's help.
Paulsen produced several books for young adults, and then his story Dogsong won a Newbery Honor Medal in 1986. His popularity skyrocketed. Next he wrote Hatchet and won another Newbery Honor Medal. Readers sent him thousands of letters, wanting to know more about Brian, the main character in his book. So Paulsen continued with a series following Brian as he survived nature and his own personal issues in life. With his health in decline, Paulsen worried that he wouldn't have enough time remaining before his death to tell all the stories he had running through his mind. Producing a book a year, Paulsen lived on and his readers rejoiced. The Winter Room earned Paulsen a third Newbery Honor Medal, and over all he authored over 200 magazine articles, short stories, and plays and more than 200 books. A successful, prolific writer Paulsen continues penning books and satisfying his ever-growing number of readers.
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