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Author Profile – Katherine Paterson

Katherine PatersonBorn: October 31, 1932 in Jiangsu, China

Katherine Paterson was born in Jiangsu, China while her parents, George & Mary Womeldorf, were working there as missionaries. Her first language is Chinese. In 1954, Paterson graduated from King College in Tennessee with a degree in English and received a Master’s degree in Christian education with the hopes of going back to China as a missionary. However, at that time, China had closed its borders. Paterson traveled to Japan instead where she worked as a Christian education assistant while studying both Japanese and Chinese culture. Both would influence her later writing.

Her first novel, “The Sign of the Chrysanthemum,” was published in 1976. Her most widely read novel, “Bridge to Terabithia,”was published the very next year. It was highly controversial due to its difficult themes but it remains Paterson’s best known work.

In January 2013, Katherine Paterson received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association recognizing her “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.” The committee cited “Bridge to Terabithia” in particular saying, “Paterson’s unflinching yet redemptive treatment of tragedy and loss helped pave the way for ever more realistic writing for young people.” Paterson herself addressed her critics in a recent interview for National Public Radio saying, “I think if a book has the power to move a reader, it also has the power to offend a reader. And you want your books to have power, so you just have to take what comes with that.”

Paterson has won two Newbery Medals, two National Book Awards, the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the biggest prize in children’s literature. She lives in Vermont with her husband, a retired Presbyterian pastor.