Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Literary Birthdays: Katherine Paterson

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Katherine Womeldorf was born on October 31, 1932 in Huai’an, China. Her parents were missionaries and immersed their family in Chinese culture. Katherine grew up speaking Chinese, with English as a second language. Due to war in China and the threat of WWII, her family relocated in and out of China eighteen times by the time she was eighteen, returning to various places in Virginia, and North Carolina.

Katherine attended King’s College in Tennessee, where she spent her time studying English and literature, and “avoiding math whenever possible.” She then spent two years in Virginia studying Christian education. The goal of her youth was to return to China and work as a missionary, but with China’s borders closed to Americans, Katherine traveled to Japan instead. She studied and worked there, and fell in love with the Japanese culture as much as she had loved the Chinese.

Planning to live in Japan for her whole life, Katherine was sidetracked when she returned to NYC for more religious study, and met and married John Paterson. Katherine and John raised four children- two adopted, two by birth.

After writing curriculum books for the Presbyterian Church that had sponsored her studies, Katherine was hooked on writing. She began to write fiction, which was what she loved to read. “In the cracks of time between feedings, diapering, cooking, reading aloud, walking to the park, getting still another baby, and carpooling to nursery school, I wrote and wrote, and published practically nothing.”

In an 2010, Katherine was interviewed by her son, John, who had just published his own children’s book. John asked why she and his father, John, had so many kids in such a short time. Katherine replied, “Oh we chose them. They were all planned. It's just that we didn't have any sense. We didn't realize having four kids in four years was going to turn me into an old lady.” During her years as a young mother, Katherine took an adult education class on creative writing. She worked out a manuscript during that course, and eventually had it published.

Since that first story, Katherine Paterson has published more than two dozen books. Some of her most loved titles are Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Jacob Have I Loved. She has won numerous awards including the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Astrid Lindgren Award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the National Book Award, and the Newbery Medal.

“The old idea was that you have to live an exciting life to write good books. I believe that you have to have a rich imaginative life. You don't have to fight dragons to write books. You just have to live deeply the life you've been given.”

Katherine is currently the vice-president of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. Read a review of Bridge to Terabithia at Literary Mama’s Now Reading: July 2013. Read the full interview with her son John at Oprah’s Book Club.  Get more information at Terabithia.com.


Amanda Jaros is a freelance writer and blogger, focusing on nature and science stories. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines including Terrain.org, Newfound, Life in the Finger Lakes Magazine, Highlights for Children, and Cargo Literary. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University.


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