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The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder

William Anderson
Laura Ingalls Wilder's inscription in a book for Nancy Sorenson (+ the book cover for "The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder")

Hundreds of millions of people, young and old, have read the words of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the beloved Little House on the Prairie series.

Ever since “Little House in the Big Woods” was published in 1932, readers have been hungry for more. Wilder published seven more books and since her death in 1957 there have been many biographies written and collections of her other writings published. In 2014, at long last, her autobiography, Pioneer Girl was released, and now William Anderson has dipped into what he calls the last well of Wilder’s unpublished writing with The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Anderson about what he found in those letters.

The letters shed light on the relationship and writing collaboration between Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Anderson says the letters show that Lane acted as her mother’s editor and was very involved in the process of writing the books.

The letters also show that the process was not without conflict. Wilder and Lane disagreed strongly over how the book, By the Shores of Silver Lake should begin. On February 3, 1938 Rose Wilder Lane wrote a letter to her mother that began: “Dear Mama Bess, You are one of the few writers in the country who would turn down a collaboration with RWL, but go ahead.”

In spite of the disagreements, Anderson says that mother and daughter were very fond of each other. He quotes a source who was close to the family, who once said, “There was blood love between Laura and Rose, but they were better off when they lived in their own homes far away from each other.”

Anderson says his main take away from Wilder’s letters is that, “She is essentially the same person grown up that readers have come to love and cherish from the 'Little House' books.”

Dwight Miller, former senior archivist for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, also joins the conversation. The Museum houses many of Wilder’s and Lane’s paper, and Miller was instrumental in bringing that collection to West Branch. 

William Anderson will be at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum to talk about The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder on Monday, September 5th at 11am and 2pm. The programs are open to the public.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa