Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name stripped from literary award over racism concerns

Commons

Commons

A division of the American Library Association is removing author Laura Ingalls Wilder's name from a book award after years of complaints about her depictions of Native Americans in her books, The Washington Post reported.

The association made a decision to remove Wilder's name from the award because her works include "expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC's core values".

The vote took place Saturday in New Orleans, and the decision received a standing ovation, according to Fox News.

The ALSC board made the recommendation in May, noting Wilder's name "has painful associations for many".

Wilder, born in 1867, published her first "Little House on the Prairie" book in 1932; the seven subsequent novels about pioneer life in the west were published through 1943, just 14 years before she died.

It has since become a staple of children's literature in the USA and around the world, spawning multiple literary spinoffs, merchandise, and a wildly popular television series in 1974.

Citing "anti-Native and anti-Black sentiments in her work", the association declared that Wilder's literary legacy "includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC's core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness". Among the offending passages are characters who say things like "the only good Indian is a dead Indian", and depictions of men wearing blackface as part of performances.

The editor at Harper's who received the reader's complaint wrote back saying it was "unbelievable" to her that not a single person at Harper's ever noticed, for almost 20 years, that the sentence appeared to imply that Native Americans were not people, according to a 2007 biography of Wilder by Pamela Smith Hill. The board had created a task force to examine the issue back in January, saying Wilder's legacy was "complex" and her works "not universally embraced". "Only Indians lived there", Wilder wrote.

Something readers may tend to forget is that Little House on the Prairie and the related books in the series are something of a hybrid in terms of historical fiction.

Demonizing those Native Americans as the defacto bad guys of a series of books might be a way to teach racism, but it makes sense that the ALSC doesn't want to continue to name its highest honor after these stories.

"Vividly, unforgettably, it still tells truths about white settlement, homesteading and the violent appropriation of Indian land and culture".

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