Katherine Paterson is the author of more than 30 books for young readers. A two-time Newbery and National Book Award winner, she was recently named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Librarian of Congress. She is an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Barre, Vermont.
I want to start out by simply asking you about your faith. I don’t know that your fans know about your faith background. How does your faith inform your writing?
Well, I was born in China. My parents were missionaries to China and we would have lived there most of my growing up years except for World War II. We were evacuated twice—once in 1928 and again at the end of 1940. So China was my native land, although I am born of American parents.
I grew up in a household where the Bible was very central in our lives and my parents’ commitment to Jesus Christ and to spreading the gospel was very important. When we came back and the war began in earnest between the United States and Japan, we knew we would not be going back to China for a while. My father became a pastor in North Carolina. So I grew up either as the child of a missionary or the child of a pastor.
I went to King College which is a Presbyterian college in Tennessee—Bristol, Tennessee—and began to decide at a fairly early age that I would probably go into mission work myself. I, of course, wanted to go back to China, and I don’t know whether that was the call of God or the call of Chinese food (laughing). These things are never sure, you know—the fallen human condition! So I finished college and spent a year teaching, and then I went to what was then the Assemblies training school, which is now a part of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. I graduated with a masters degree in English Bible, and of course China was not open to missionary work in 1957 when I graduated.