When I learned that Erin Blakemore, fellow blogger, twitter friend and author of the forthcoming book, The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder was attending this year's first-ever LauraPalooza, a celebration of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, I begged her to write me a guest post. One bribe of a Betsy-Tacy tote bag later and she said yes! Read on for the 5 things she learned at Laurapalooza (which I think has to be the best name for a literary conference yet.)
A double-take-inducing name. A droolworthy topic. A weekend where academics and fans alike could commune over some of the most iconic subject matter in children’s literature. LauraPalooza 2010, which was organized by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association and hosted by Minnesota State University, Mankato from July 13-17 turned out to be all of these things and much more. Here are five things I learned along the way:
1. Laura fans are not messing around. Fellow Laurati (Laurata?) and panelist Wendy McClure recently posited that Betsy-Tacy fans are hardcore, and I agree. But LAURA FANS ARE NOT MESSING AROUND. These are people who will happily crisscross the country and circumnavigate the globe for a glimpse of soil tread by members of the Ingalls and Wilder clans. They talk semiotics, gender construction, local history, cultural criticism. And yes, they sew a mean quilt square.
3. There’s room for every flavor of Laura fan. Fans of the TV show swooned over Dean Butler, TV’s Almanzo Wilder. Crafters were able to discuss needlecraft heritage. Physicists and meteorologists found their voices in two AMAZING discussions of The Long Winter (seriously – check out Sarah S. Uthoff’s YouTube videos of the event…never in my life did I think I’d want to stand up and cheer for a science lecture). People like me got to discuss their favorite book mispronunciations (turns out “Almanzo” was one – put the emphasis on the MAN and you’ve got it right). The most heartwarming thing? All were welcome, all belonged.
4. It's all about context. To me, the most valuable thing about LauraPalooza and my subsequent travels to De Smet and Walnut Grove was the context. Armed with new information and new perspectives, my childhood (and adult) comfort reading is even more meaningful. The conference helped refresh the sense of discovery and fun I had while researching and writing The Heroine’s Bookshelf while reminding me that there’s always more to learn.
Why is this image freakout-worthy, you ask? Because it’s an image of the five cottonwoods on the Ingalls homestead, complete with prairie grass (video) the Ingalls themselves tread!
5. You don’t need a crack in the floor to win a spelling bee. That’s what I learned in my DECISIVE SPELLING BEE VICTORY in the first-ever LauraPalooza Spelling Bee! Okay, so the rules weren’t quite as strict as I’d have liked, and I almost flubbed “dialogue,” and I have a feeling one of my competitors was robbed by a homonym, but neither these facts nor the lack of a crack in the floor to put my toes on can dull the thrill of spelling down a long line of contenders. I look forward to defending my title at LauraPalooza 2012!
Erin Blakemore (left, in pre-LauraPalooza days) learned to hate Nellie Oleson and love the prairie in suburban San Diego, California. These days, her inner heroine loves roller derby, running her own business, and hiking in her adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Her debut book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf, will be published by Harper Collins this October. Follow Erin on Twitter, and learn more about The Heroine's Bookshelf.