“I have often noted that it takes the thinnest skin in the world to be a writer, it takes the thickest to seek out publication. But both are needed—the extreme sensitivity and the hippo hide against criticism.”Katherine Paterson
Katherine Womeldorf Paterson was born October 31st, 1932, in Qing Jiang, China. Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries. In 1937 her family fled China during the Japanese invasion and moved back to the United States, living in North Carolina, West Virginia, and finally settling in Virginia.
She got her undergraduate degree in English from King’s College in Tennessee and master’s from Presbyterian School of Christian Education. She hoped to serve as a missionary in China after college, but the borders were closed, so she went to Japan instead to overcome her fear of the Japanese she had developed growing up in China before WWII.
In 1962 she married John Paterson, a Presbyterian minister who enthusiastically encouraged her writing. In the 1960s, she began writing mid-grade curriculums for the Presbyterian Church. She also started writing novels, initially with no success. She took adult education classes in creative writing, and in 1973 published her first children’s novel, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum.
Her book The Master Puppeteer, a children’s historical novel set in Japan, won the National Book Award in 1977.
In 1977 her most well-known work, Bridge to Terabithia, was published and was awarded the Newbery Medal.
The Great Gilly Hopkins won the National Book Award in 1979 and was a Newbery Honor Book.
Jacob Have I Loved, published in 1980, was also awarded a Newbery Medal.
Paterson has written more than 30 books, including 16 novels for children and young people.
In 2010 she was named the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
Her husband, John, died in 2013. They have four children and seven grandchildren. Today Paterson lives in Vermont with her dog.
Lesson from Paterson:
Paterson did not grow up wanting to be a writer, she fell into it after marriage and children, using books to figure out difficult things in her life, like the death of her child’s friend, and the challenges of foster care. There is no one way to become a writer, or background that should prevent you.