For eight weeks this fall, I participated in the Laura Ingalls Wilder: Exploring Her Work and Writing Life, Part I class at Canvas.net. This free class was taught by Pamela Smith Hill, a professor at Missouri State University. I am so grateful that Sian posted about this class back in August, a few weeks before it started, so that I could join in.
The main text for the class was Pamela Smith Hill's book Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life. We also read the first four of the Little House books as part of the class. In addition, there was a list of other recommended books for further study. I jumped right into the course and ended up reading 12 books during the eight weeks of the course! I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the study of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life and writings.
Several of the books I read were written by William Anderson, a specialist in the subject of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I've always been a huge fan of the Little House books, so I was excited to learn more about the real life Laura Ingalls Wilder and how she became such a popular and well-known writer. The class materials included weekly reading assignments, video lectures, discussion questions, and quizzes. I found the materials excellent, although the discussion boards were filled with way too many comments to read as there were over 1000 people signed up for the course. Luckily, each week we received an email which summarized and condensed the responses to each discussion question (and I was thrilled to be quoted twice in those emails!).
I have to admit that I am even more impressed with Laura Ingalls Wilder as a writer after learning more about how she practiced and perfected the craft of writing and the way "she altered the truth to make a better story." Wilder's stories revolve around the theme of always moving west, a theme that is consistent in the novels despite the fact that the actual Ingalls family moved numerous times (not always west) before settling in Dakota Territory. The course instructor stated that "Wilder shaped the history of her life for the purposes of her story" and also notes how her writing and storytelling improved with the later books. This improvement could be a result of several things: (1) she grew as a writer, (2) she remembered more about her life during her teenage years, and/or (3) she learned how to explain how things looked after her older sister Mary lost her eyesight and Laura began to "see" things for her through words. As Laura states in one of the Little House books, there are "so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them."
I also learned a good bit that I hadn't known about Laura and Manly once they settled at Rocky Ridge Farm with their daughter. Rose Wilder Lane became an author before her mother, however I have to admit that I didn't think very highly of her as we studied how she edited the Little House books and "borrowed" heavily from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Pioneer Girl autobiography . . . without telling her or asking her first!
I'll definitely be signing up for Part II of this course, which begins in early April 2015. We'll be reading and discussion the remaining Little House books along with Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography that is scheduled for publication later this month.