Bright Lights, Prairie Dust


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About the Author

Karen Grassle, known around the world for her iconic role as "Ma" on Little House on the Prairie, grew up in Ventura, California. Raised by hardworking parents whose relationship was undercut by the alcoholism of her father, Karen graduated from UC Berkeley and attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art on a Fulbright. She went on to a career in New York as well as in theatres all over the US. She cowrote and starred in the TV film Battered and is known for her advocacy on behalf of equality for women. In the last fifteen years, she has appeared in plays nationwide, as well as in three indie films. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and takes pleasure in her relationship with her son, Zach Radford, and spending free time in the garden. She lives in El Cerrito, CA.


"So uplifting! So full of hope! The perfect read on life's reflections."
-Kristin Chenoweth, Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress

"In Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Karen Grassle emerges as a skilled memoirist, writing with candor, grace, and style. Keenly introspective, she chronicles her evolution as an actor during some of America's most turbulent times. This book is a powerful read by a vibrant woman of conviction."
-William Anderson, author of Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography

"I loved reading about Karen's fascinating life in Bright Lights, Prairie Dust. I admire her courage and perspective. She is so much more than Ma Ingalls. I read this book in two days-very hard to put down! Don't miss it."
-Rosie O'Donnell, comedian, producer, actress, and author

"Karen Grassle's new memoir is breathtaking. Here is an authentic and unvarnished account of the life of an actor-the good, the bad, and the ugly. Karen encapsulates both the joys found and the sacrifices made in the name of our beloved craft. I will happily recommend the book to all the women I care about."
-Betty Buckley, actress and singer

"I've always loved Karen Grassle. My respect and admiration for her are even better informed now, thanks to her excellent new book. Karen shares a joyous, searching, and sometimes devastating personal and artistic life driven by her commitment to artistic excellence. As we all witnessed for ourselves on TV, Karen's craft transformed her turmoil into touchstones of serenity and strength that audiences have always adored."
-Dean Butler, actor and producer

"Bravo to my fellow TV mom! What a fascinating journey. The book is so well written . . . I couldn't put it down."
-Marion Ross, actor

"Karen weaves a fascinating story of her life and of her experiences, first as a developing artist in the theatre and later as a star in in Hollywood. This book strikes me as a work of courage and hard- earned wisdom as she artfully bares her soul with eyes wide open."
-Dirk Blocker, actor

"In this unique portrait of an artist, Karen Grassle details the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of her life in theatre, television, and film. From a scrappy beginning in the theatre in '60s New York to the not-so-pretty behind-the-scenes of a favorite American show, Karen shares her experience, strength, and hope with us in her battle with alcoholism and showbiz with courageous honesty."
-Jean Louisa Kelly, actress (Uncle Buck, Mr. Holland's Opus, Top Gun 2)

"A touching, honest, and powerful memoir. By the end, we feel great affection and respect for Karen Grassle, the person-a role she struggled with through much of her life but eventually fulfilled in fine style. She found acting and feminism at Berkeley in the '60s, and they never let her down."
-Peter Glazer, playwright, director, associate professor, TDPS, UC Berkeley

"I started to read this book as a favor to my friend Karen, and soon realized that the favor came from her to me! This is a story about a woman who has shared her heart, soul, and humor. It is a beautiful story from childhood to stardom. I couldn't put it down."
-Michael Learned, Emmy Award-winning actress (The Waltons)

"Behind the 'Ma' we adored on our screens lies a gritty story of perseverance and heartache-both on and off the prairie. Karen's book will surprise the Little House fan in all of us."
-Wendi Lou Lee, author and actress on Little House on the Prairie

"If you think you know Karen Grassle, you don't. If you think she's simply 'Ma,' she isn't. I was fascinated and intrigued and astonished reading this book. I couldn't put it down. Do yourself a favor and go on her life journey with her. It will make yours better!"
-Dee Wallace, actress
"Karen Grassle's brilliant, painful, and passionate memoir is both heartbreaking and downright fun. Fans of her beloved, iconic 'Caroline Ingalls' from Little House on the Prairie will be thrilled with the personal and private backstage details, though I'd recommend the book to anyone looking for an entertaining and immersive read."
-Beth Grant, actress (Rain Man, No Country for Old Men, Little Miss Sunshine, Speed)

"Karen has lived a fascinating life which she recounts with heart- breaking honesty. I'm so proud of my TV 'Ma' for her take on our Little House adventure and so much more!"
-Melissa Anderson, Emmy Award-winning actress and author

"Part coming-of-age story, part Hollywood tell-all, part chronicle of American history, part guidebook to being a great actor, all told with warmth and humor and brutal honesty, Karen Grassle's Bright Lights, Prairie Dust is a thrilling memoir of a life both extraordinary in its adventures and achievements and ordinary in its commonality with the experiences of women everywhere."
-Rinne B. Groff, playwright

"As a Religious Science Minister, I read everything through my metaphysical filter in order to better serve my spiritual community and the world. Karen's transparent sharing of her life left me moved-I laughed, cried, and felt my own heart and mind shift and expand. I am grateful!
-Rev. Dr. Raymont Anderson, Sr. Minister, CSL, Greater Baltimore

"Brace yourselves! She is nothing like Ma! Hear it all from the woman behind the petticoats."
-Alison Arngrim, actor and New York Times best-selling author Confessions of a Prairie Bitch "Karen Grassle's arresting memoir is a gift to the millions of fans of Little House. She shares an ongoing spiritual journey as she dedicates herself to a life in the theatre while untangling the knots along the way. It's a highly honest, detailed, and fast-paced voyage that's sure to make a proper prairie woman blush! Be swept away reading about the radical '60s of Berkeley, Broadway, and Hollywood, and of becoming the iconic 'Ma Ingalls' while always being committed to women's rights. This is a brave book; I was truly enthralled."
-Lucy Lee Flippen, actress

"Karen Grassle's transformation from edgy Good Girl into formida- ble Big Girl, in her own voice: 'a chance to make a difference revved my motor.' It's all here-navigating ruthless Little House contract negotiations, debating the ERA with Phyllis Shlafly, helping build a battered women's shelters network . . . while relentlessly pursuing the most demanding lover of all: her acting Muse."
-Margie Adam, feminist singer-songwriter

"Every beginning actor should read this book. Karen's journey intimately guides the reader both through immersive actor training and the professional industry and what it takes to be an actor. Fearlessly and rigorously authentic, Karen's memoir makes you feel your own heartbeat, see your own shadow, and begin to rediscover what it is that makes life, with all its ache and glory, worth living."
-Lauren English, casting director and performance coach

"Karen is beloved by Little House fans for her portrayal of Ma, strong matriarch of a family beginning a difficult journey to a new life. Reading about her life before she was my TV Ma shows how that strength and resiliency developed. It gives us a look into a rich life and the struggles that shape us, beyond what America saw each week watching TV's favorite family."
-Matthew Labyorteaux, actor

"An absorbing and compelling memoir that traces a true hero's journey from growing up in an alcoholic home through the terrain of mental illness and addiction to hard-won recovery. Karen gives us a master class in acting, an intimate glimpse behind the scenes of a successful television series, and a clarion call from the frontlines of the fight for women's rights. All told with a storyteller's gift, and the authentic voice of a close and reliable friend."
-Diana Gould, producer, screenwriter, and author of award-winning Coldwater

"Karen Grassle's memoir, written with passion and candor, is a delightful, intimate portrait of an actor's life. I think it is a valuable book for students preparing for a career in theater, film, or television. Karen has practical advice about auditions, rehearsals, and working on a television set. An inspiration!"
-Christine Adaire, Head of Voice, American Conservatory Theatre, and Linklater Voice Teacher

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