During a life-altering NCTE conference in Chicago last month, I met Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia.
This beautiful spirit of a woman reminded me more of a kind-lady-from-church than of an award-winning novelist who has shaped ongoing generations of young readers.
I think it was the gray hair that forced me to think “grand-maternal figure” rather than “earth-mover.” (Darn-blasted media influences and cultural stereotypes… I should have learned this lesson of futile assumptions by now.)
She signed my newly purchased copy of her novel The Day of the Pelican. At this time, my friend and partner-in-crime Meaghan Decker told her that Bridge was wholly inspiring. Since Mrs. Paterson does not know my friend, the writer may have missed the pause and choke my friend’s voice betrayed as a raw emotion of awe sweeped through her.
I had my own connection to Mrs. Paterson beyond Bridge, which prepared me like so many readers for the pain of our natural world. I summoned my memory of The Great Gilly Hopkins when working with foster children and orphans at Bethesda Home for Boys. Gilly was uncouth, suspicious, racist, and disposable. So were my charges. What a journey of learning and healing we began.
From her website Terabithia.com, I read that Katherine Paterson’s husband was crucial to her writing success and to her identity as a writer:
He believed that I could write during all those years that no one wanted to publish anything I had written. He was the one that made me put “writer” on the IRS form instead of “housewife.”
Thankfully he did so. On the topic of thanks, Mrs. Paterson left Deck and me with the sentiment that she was simply grateful at the opportunity to write for a living and for a lifestyle.