‘LauraPalooza’ coming to the big city

MSU instructor plans Laura Ingalls Wilder conference

By Robb Murray
The Free Press

MANKATO — Amy Mattson Lauters says she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t interested in the stories and life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And come July, she’ll be surrounded by a whole bunch of people who probably feel the same way — or who at least are as interested in the “Little House on the Prairie” creator as she is.

Lauters — an instructor at Minnesota State University — and similarly-obsessed scholars of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books are putting together a conference that is a first for Little House fans. Three days of speakers, actors and authors talking about all things Ingalls Wilder, all things Little House.

Despite the enduring popularity of the books and television series, there has never been an effort to bring scholars and fans together for a weekend of conversing on their common interest.

Last summer, while a group of scholars on the subject were meeting in South Dakota, they decided the time had come for a larger, more serious gathering.

Lauters, who had been the driving force behind the “Beyond Little House” Web site, took the lead. She teaches in MSU’s Department of Mass Communications, and has authored two books related to the Little House world.

She says her grandmother introduced her to the books, and her grandparents were friends with members of the Ingalls Wilder family.

“I made a connection as a little girl that these books were about someone my family knew,” she said.

Lauters’ passion was for the books. The television series takes some liberties with the material, she said, such as the addition of key characters and events that weren’t in the books — in the books, she says, there was no Adam, or Albert, and Mary never got married. But she says there’s still a place at the discussion table for the television series.

“I started to get kind of insulted by the show,” she said. “But it certainly inspired a lot of women to go out and find the books.”

The conference will include, Lauters says, many significant scholars on the Little House world, as well as some luminaries, including Dean Butler, who played “Almanzo” in the series.

Fellow mass communications instructors Charles Lewis and Mavis Richardson plan presentations, as well as biographers William T. Anderson and John Miller, among other authors.

Much of the scholarly work on the Ingalls Wilder world has been done on the literature. But more recently, Lauters says, more attention has been paid to history as manifested in the books.

Also, more attention has been paid to Rose Wilder, the author’s daughter, who was instrumental in getting the original eight books published. Rose Wilder was politically active and promoted independence and agrarian ideals.

There’s much more to unearth in Walnut Grove.

“We’re still unpacking a lot of the legacy of these particular books,” Lauters said.

The conference’s goal, she said, is bring both scholars and fans together for an event that is both serious in its content but also fun.

LauraPalooza is scheduled for July 15-17 at MSU. Visit Beyond Little House (www.beyondlittlehouse.com) for registration information.