Even with all the celebrity authors wandering around Javits, it’s impossible to overlook two monumental South Dakota Historical Society Press books about larger-than-life subjects: Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, and Love Letters from Mount Rushmore: The Story of a Marriage, a Monument, and a Moment in History by Richard Cerasani. Cerasani is the son of one of the sculptors who carved the 60-foot-high heads of four presidents. He has some star power of his own to add to the glow at SDHSP’s booth: he played the villain Bill Watson for three years on General Hospital under his professional name, Richard Caine.
In 1940, Cerasani’s father, Arthur, left his family in upstate New York and traveled 1,500 miles west to South Dakota to work for a year on the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. The sculptor and artist sent letters to his wife, Mary, on a regular basis, describing the trials and triumphs of carving huge stone faces into the side of a mountaintop. In turn, Mary wrote to him of the trials and triumphs of parenting their infant son, Richard, born that fall. Decades later, the discovery of the letters in an old trunk inspired Cerasani to tell their story—his story.
According to Hill, Wilder’s autobiography reveals for the first time the truth of her footloose childhood in a pioneering family that later fueled the stories in the Little House on the Prairie series. Her family spent 16 years traveling through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakota Territory. Wilder initially wrote of her childhood in a 1930 autobiography. After no publishers bit, she used sections from it as the basis for her first novel, Little House in the Big Woods, and continued to mine it for the rest of the series.
Even though Wilder wrote during the 1930s Great Depression, readers can still relate to her life story. “She’s especially relevant now, as so many families continue to struggle through the aftermath of the Great Recession—people losing their homes, having to move, getting by with less,” Hill says.
The first 100 visitors to booth 1665 each day of BEA will do more than just get by: they’ll receive a blad of Pioneer Girl and a tote bag.
Both Hill and Cerasani will sign copies of their books today: Cerasani, 10–11 a.m., at Table 11 and Hill, 11 a.m.–noon, at Table 1665.