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Volume 24, Number 9 — September 2017

King alumna Katherine Paterson receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Katherine Paterson (Photo by Samantha Loomis Paterson)
Katherine Paterson (Photo by Samantha Loomis Paterson)

January 21, 2014

Director of the Buechner Institute at King University Dale Brown was privileged to present the award to Paterson. During his presentation, he said, "Writing primarily for children, Katherine has somehow managed to clarify human experience for all of us. She says that "... those of us who write for children are called, not to do something to a child, but to be someone for a child.' It turns out that she has been someone for all of us."

Born in China in 1932 to Christian missionaries, Paterson spent much of her childhood there until the family was forced to flee during the Japanese invasion. Her family moved often due to their missionary work. While in school, Paterson began to write, penning many plays, in which her peers acted.

In 1954, Paterson graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English from King College (now King University). She received her master's degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. After teaching for a year, Paterson spent four years in Japan as a missionary. She then traveled back to New York to pursue a second master's degree in religious education.

Paterson's first children's novel, "The Sign of the Chrysanthemum," published in 1973, was a Japanese fairy tale, based on her studies in Japan. Paterson's writing career includes 39 published works. Her best known work is "The Bridge to Terabithia," published in 1977, and adapted for film twice, a 1985 PBS version and the Disney/Walden Media production in 2007. Paterson's most recent books are "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (June 2011) and "The Flint Heart" (Sept. 2011). She is also contributor to a serialized story, "The Exquisite Corpse Adventure," available exclusively on the Library of Congress web site. Paterson penned the final episode, which debuted in Sept. at the 2010 National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

In 2011, Paterson was named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. Paterson, who served in the position throughout 2011, chose "Read for Your Life" as the theme for her platform. Upon bestowing the honor, Billington said of Paterson, "Katherine Paterson represents the finest in literature for young people. Her renown is national as well as international, and she will most ably fulfill the role of a national ambassador who speaks to the importance of reading and literacy in the lives of America's youth."

Having been named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2000, Paterson's awards are numerous. She is a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal for "Bridge to Terabithia" and "Jacob Have I Loved," and received the National Book Award for "The Great Gilly Hopkins" and "The Master Puppeteer." Other accolades include the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, given by her home state of Vermont.

Paterson is also a founding member of the National Advisory Board for the Buechner Institute at King University.

"It would be easy to emphasize these many major literary awards, her role as the national ambassador for children's literature, her advocacy of literacy programs, her lifetime of achievement as a writer, and so much more," said Brown. "But, I have always been most taken by her graciousness, her sense of the big questions with which we all grapple, her life as much as her life's work. Though she writes powerfully of what O'Connor calls "the dust,' she does more than write with insight into all that it means to be human. She also lives well, a vibrant exemplar of faith embodied. She has said that she wants to "be the word of hope, of faith, of love. To be the word made flesh.' In fact, she has declared on more than one occasion, that her purpose is "to share the grace she has been given.'

Brown added, "My favorite Katherine Paterson line came in a 2011 speech at her alma mater, King College: "The consolation of the imagination is not imaginary consolation,' she said. That connection between the life well lived and the career as storyteller is the territory in which she has worked with grace, beauty, and a commitment to verity."

The Conference on Christianity and Literature is an interdisciplinary society dedicated to exploring the relationships between Christianity and literature. Organized formally in 1956, CCL is dedicated to both scholarly excellence and collegial exchange and includes hundreds of members from a variety of academic institutions and religious traditions from the United States, Canada, and more than a dozen other countries. Dr. Roger Lundin serves CCL as president. He is also a former speaker at the Buechner Institute.