Katherine Paterson

  • Jul. 2nd, 2013 at 1:03 AM
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All of us can think of a book that we hope none of our children or any other children have taken off the shelf. But if I have the right to remove that book from the shelf - that work I abhor - then you also have exactly the same right and so does everyone else. And then we have no books left on the shelf for any of us.

Katherine Paterson

  • Jun. 27th, 2012 at 10:41 PM
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I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?

Katherine Paterson

  • Oct. 17th, 2010 at 9:05 PM
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A great novel is a kind of conversion experience. We come away from it changed.
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...I write for the child I was and the child I still am. Like countless other lucky adults, I have much in common with children. We daydream, wonder, exaggerate, ask "what if?"--and what we imagine sometimes is more true than what is. We like to play with squishy things--mud, clay, dough, words--and we make stuff out of them. We like kids, animals, rain puddles, and pizza, and dare to love silly things. We don't like Brussels sprouts, the dentist, or books with great long passages of description, flashbacks, or dream sequences. We like happy endings - or at least, hope. And we love stories.

As a child I wrote constantly but never thought about growing up to be a writer... We didn't own many books; in school I suffered through basal readers, but before long I discovered the library. Then chances were if I could reach it, I would read it... Writers, I began to think, were people who had all the answers. I didn't have all the answers; I didn't even know all the questions. So I stopped writing, for a very long time, and for years endured the painful search for a place to belong. Some times were great, some empty and awful, but there was always something missing.

Finally, the day my daughter began filling out college applications, I sat down to write, for myself. I still didn't have the answers, but I began to know some of the questions: why? what for? what if? how would it be?

Writing was still hard work - hard to begin, hard to stop. But it also became a passion, and that made all the difference. "To sum it all up," Ray Bradbury said, "if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling... I wish for you a wrestling match with your creative muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories . . . Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days and out of that love, remake a world."

I read that, and I said, "Yes." And out of my passion came Catherine, Called Birdy, my first book. I wrote it despite my own doubts and the "don'ts" of others, because I needed to find out about things, about identity and responsibility, compassion and kindness and belonging, and being human in the world. How could I learn them if I didn't write about them?

...As children are what they eat and hear and experience, so too they are what they read. This is why I write what I do, about strong young women who in one way or another take responsibility for their own lives; about tolerance, thoughtfulness, and caring; about choosing what is life-affirming and generous; about the ways that people are the same and the ways they are different and how rich that makes us all.

Katherine Paterson, whose books, both fiction and nonfiction, have inspired me more than I can say, wrote, "It is not enough simply to teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations--something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own." ...

"The goal of storytellers," Russian poet Kornei Chukovsky wrote," ... consists of fostering in the child, at whatever cost, compassion and humaneness--this miraculous ability of man to be disturbed by another being's misfortunes, to feel joy about another being's happiness, to experience another's fate as one's own."

Such is the importance of stories. This is why I write. And what can be more important in this world?

Katherine Paterson

  • Aug. 12th, 2010 at 12:55 AM
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...We marvel at a man like Nelson Mandela. How was he able to walk out of prison after twenty-seven years of torture and humiliation and lead a tortured and humiliated people into a nation that sought justice without vengeance? If ever we despair of the human race, here is a man who can inspire us once again to hope.

"But didn't you hate your captors?" an interviewer asked him recently. "Yes," he replied. "For the first thirteen years I hated them. But then one day I realized they could take away everything I had - except my mind and my heart. I would have to give those away. And I would refuse to do that."

Nelson Mandela is a miracle, a man who knew that he had a mind and a heart too valuable to surrender, so dear in fact that he would use his solitary sentence to nourish himself. So for the next fourteen years he grew his soul. For which the world will always be in his debt.

I do not claim for a moment that any book could work that kind of miracle in most ordinary humans. But I think there is a gift that a book can give a child which bears some relation to Mandela's story. A book can give a child a way to learn to value herself, which is at the start of the process of growing a great soul. It is why I struggle so against the idea that characters in novels should be role models. Role models may inspire some children - but they didn't inspire any child that I ever was. They only discouraged me. Whereas that awful, bad-tempered, selfish Mary Lennox - who could admire her? Who could love such an unlovable creature? Yet she was given the key to a secret garden. Not because she deserved it, but because she needed it. When I read The Secret Garden, I fell in love with Mary Lennox. She was my soul mate. And because I loved her, I was able to learn to love myself a bit.

On unlikable characters, magic, and her goal in writing )


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