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Hamlin Garland

Minnesota Public Radio's "Writer's Almanac" pulls a real obscurity out of the vault:

It's the birthday of novelist Hamlin Garland, born in West Salem, Wisconsin (1860). His parents were pioneers who had moved west to stake out some land for themselves. The family went through droughts and floods and plagues of locusts, and had to move around more than once. Garland thought he would support himself as a farmer in South Dakota, but after three of the harshest winters of his life, he decided to give up the farm and move east.

He wound up in Boston where he began to write for the newspapers, and eventually decided that he wanted to write fiction about the life of pioneers that he had left behind. At that time, almost no one had written authentically about pioneer life. People in the East believed that farmers lived in the beautiful countryside and that their lives were simple and noble. Hamlin Garland said, "There is no gilding of setting sun or glamour of poetry to light up the ferocious and endless toil of the farmer's [life]."

In 1891 he published his first collection of stories, Main Traveled Roads, and within a few years he was famous. He went on to become one of the most respected novelists of his generation, best known for his autobiographical trilogy, A Son of the Middle Border (1917), A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921), and Back-Trailers from the Middle Border (1928).

He's obscure now, that is--he was actually quite popular in his day. I picked up an old copy of A Daughter of the Middle Border at Printers Row Book Fair this summer and hope to get around to reading it soon. Maybe doing so will finally jump-start my work on my own pioneer epic novel.

September 14, 2006 in Books | Permalink

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