Women Writers of Children's Literature

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Katherine Paterson
b. 1932

KATHERINE PATERSON was born Katherine Womeldorf on October 31, 1932, in Tsing Tsiang Pu, by the Yellow Sea, amidst the struggle for power between the Chinese Communists and the Kuomintang government forces. Her father, George Raymond Womeldorf, and mother, Mary Goetchius Womeldorf, had come to this part of China as missionaries of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Unlike most missionary families, Katherine's lived almost exclusively among the Chinese on a school campus. As a result, many of Katherine's earliest memories are associated with a language she learned in infancy and later lost, and with the food and textures of a culture in which she participated so briefly.

When Katherine was five, the Japanese advanced rapidly upon Shanghai, compelling the family to retreat to the United States. A year later, however, the Womeldorfs returned to China, but only George could travel to the village in which they had formerly lived, on account of the danger. In 1940, the family moved permanently to the United States. Their life continued to be nomadic, though: during Katherine's childhood, they moved 15 times among different parts of Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Throughout this time, Katherine wrote stories and plays. She attended King College in Bristol, Tennessee, from 1950 to 1954 and later earned a master's degree in English Bible from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Virginia.

Like her parents, Katherine also went to the Far East to work as a missionary, only she chose to go to Japan. From 1957 to 1959, she studied Japanese, and she worked as a missionary for the next five years. She left Japan to get her second master's degree, in religious education, at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, in 1962. That same year, she met and married the Presbyterian minister John Barstow Paterson.

Over the next 10 years, Katherine and John Paterson raised their two sons and two adopted daughters in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Katherine wrote for the Presbyterian Church of the United States but she also continued to write stories—although she did not attempt to publish them. With the encouragement of her husband and children, however, she wrote three novels and had them published. These first novels are all set in Japan. One of them, The Master Puppeteer ( 1976), was awarded the National Book Award in Children's Literature in

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