...to meet my #1 Kidlit Writing Hero, but barring something unforeseen, it's going to happen. I'M GOING TO HAVE TEA AT HER HOUSE, you all!! Okay, first let's see if you can guess who it is. This person:
- was born in China between the two World Wars;
- was a teacher in Japan;
- has won (among many other awards) two Newbery Medals and two National Book Awards;
- was recently a U.S. National Ambassador for Children's Literature; and
- is (I just discovered) active on Facebook!
It's Katherine Paterson, and here's how this came about. In June I saw on someone's website that the MFA program of the Vermont College of Fine Arts was going to be hosting an auction. Just out of curiosity, I looked to see what the prizes were, and saw to my amazement that one of them - the only one, as far as I was concerned - was Tea with Katherine Paterson (who's on the VCFA Board of Trustees) at her house. I mean, how many world-famous writers do you know who would open up their homes to complete strangers and serve them tea?? So I pledged an absolutely insane amount of money, because talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! And I won the auction, because luckily for me, no one else seemed to be willing to spend quite so much of his/her children's inheritance as I was. Sorry, kids. Someday maybe you'll understand.
Katherine Paterson is who I want to be when I grow up. She's been publishing books since the 1970s, and they've been delighting and inspiring me for twenty years or more. And I heard her deliver a keynote address years ago at some conference or other, and she was exactly as awesome as I expected her to be, which is an extremely high bar to meet. She signed books afterward, and when it was my turn to get her autograph and I asked her if I could give her a hug (yes, yes, I'm mortified that I did this, okay?), she didn't bat an eye, just smiled, stood up, came out from behind the desk, and hugged me back.
Paterson has written picture books, a memoir, some essays and other nonfiction, and 16 novels for young people covering an enormous variety of subjects, both historical and contemporary. The common thread between almost all of the novels is that her protagonists are outsiders and sometimes outcasts. They're displaced persons, uncomfortable in their surroundings and, often, in their own skins. Paterson understands them all so deeply that she makes the reader love them even though they don't (yet) know how to love themselves. Paterson's background is intensely Christian (her parents were missionaries, her husband was a minister, she has an advanced degree in Christian education). She doesn't ever use her books to shove her faith at you, but what she does do, over and over, is beautifully, credibly illustrate both the pain of isolation and the power of redemption. Her books have brought solace to kids all over the world, and are very close to my heart.
And in September I'm going to meet this woman and spend a few hours in her company and bask in her glow. And then I'm going to come back home and write about every last detail. So stay tuned. And follow her on Facebook! Because, as if all her other accomplishments weren't enough, apparently she's tech-savvy too!
p.s. No, I'm sorry, you can't have tea with Katherine Paterson, because (as I might have mentioned) I WON THAT, but maybe if you're lucky (and also cool with hijacking your family's financial security), you can have lunch with A.S. King: https://www.facebook.com/as.king.author/photos/a.286927082468.144637.45802717468/10153025337017469/?type=1&theater. I guess writers eating meals with their slavering fans is a thing now! Go for it!