Gary Paulsen, Author of Beloved Young-Adult Novel 'Hatchet' Dies at 82

Gary Paulsen, the author best known for writing coming of age stories set in the wilderness, died on Oct. 13. He was 82. Paulsen's best-known work is Hatchet, the first in a series of novels about Brian Robeson, the son of divorced parents who has to survive in the wilderness with only a hatchet his mother gave him.

Random House Children's Books publicist Kathy Dunn confirmed Paulsen's death on Thursday, reports the Washington Post. His son, Jim, told the New York Times the cause was cardiac arrest. The author died at his home in Tularosa, New Mexico. Paulsen is survived by his wife, illustrator Ruth Wright Paulsen, his son, and two grandchildren.

Paulsen was born in Minneapolis and published over 200 books during his career, selling over 35 million copies. He was often compared to Ernest Hemingway, although most of his books were written for younger readers. His books often centered on a teenage boy who grew up in an urban environment and had to learn how to survive in the wilderness.

That's exactly what Hatchet, published in 1987, is about. Brian Robeson has to spend months in northern Canada fending for himself with only a hatchet to help him survive. The book is widely considered a classic and is still read in schools. It earned Paulsen a Newbery Honor and inspired four sequels, The River (1991), Brian's Winter (1996), Brian's Return (1999), and Brian's Hunt (2003). Hatchet was also adapted into a film, A Cry in the Wild, in 1990.

Paulsen also received Newbery Honor titles for Dogsong (1985) and The Winter Room (1989). Dogsong is about an Inuit boy who goes on a coming-of-age journey with sled dogs. The Winter Room was inspired by Paulsen's life in Minnesota. Paulsen's own experience provided plenty of material for his books, including his 1994 memoir Winterdance, which was about his experiences competing in the Iditarod race.


During his career, Paulsen tackled other subjects in his novels. In Nightjohn (1993), he told the story of an enslaved African American girl who teaches herself to read in defiance of her master's rules. Mr. Tucket (1969) was the first of his Mr. Tucket Saga, a series about a boy captured by Native Americans during his family's traveling out west. The Car (1993) was about a teenage boy who becomes friends with two Vietnam veterans. His first book, The Special War, was a nonfiction book sharing the experiences of Vietnam veterans.

"I'm a teller of stories," Paulsen told the New York Times in 2006. "I put bloody skins on my back and dance around the fire, and I say what the hunt was like. It's not erudite; it's not intellectual. I sail, run dogs, ride horses, play professional poker and tell stories about the stuff I've been through. And I'm still a romantic; I still want Bambi to make it out of the fire."