In 1982, agent Eleanor Friede was trying to find a publisher to reprint The Education of Little Tree, a little-known, out-of-print book by deceased author Forrest Carter. She sent the book to several publishers, among them Elizabeth Hadas, director of the University of New Mexico Press, who read the book and remembers: ”It moved me to tears. It’s a classic American book, an Indian Huckleberry Finn.”
The university press printed 2,000 paperback copies of Little Tree in 1986, which sold out almost immediately. Since then, more than 426,000 copies of the paperback have been sold. Three hundred thousand copies will have been issued in 1991 alone, bringing the total number in print to 650,000.
On the New York Times best-seller list this summer, the surprising Tree placed , right behind Deborah Tannen’s self-help book, You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women Talking. ”If only men and women could understand each other, we’d be No. 1,” jokes Peter Moulson, the New Mexico publisher’s marketing director.
Book buyers haven’t been the only ones to take notice. A recent Variety headline read, ”After dancing with ‘Wolves,’ H’wood barking up ‘Little Tree.”’ India Carter, the author’s widow, is currently weighing movie offers. (Another one of Forrest Carter’s books, Gone to Texas, was made into the 1976 Clint Eastwood Western, The Outlaw Josey Wales.)
Even a Broadway star has come calling. Tommy Tune, director of the hit musical The Will Rogers Follies, was so taken with Little Tree, Hadas says, that ”he ordered a couple of hundred copies to give away to his guests at the opening-night party.”