Interview with Katherine Paterson

Mrs Paterson, how do you value being selected the 2006 recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award?

It is a miracle to me that stories that have come out of my heart can somehow reach across oceans, languages, ages, nationalities, races, and all the barriers we humans keep erecting, and find their way into another person's heart. That Sweden would give me their highest award for children's books says to me that that miraculous connection has been made.

I am very grateful.

You have often been called a realist, and in the recent interviews you state that your books are more realistic than Astrid Lindgren's. In an earlier essay, you pointed out that there was always a mythic subtext in your books, and that your main characters were variants of Joseph Campbell's "hero with a thousand faces." How do these stances match each other?

I think of myself as a simple down to earth sort of writer which makes me stand in awe of poets and fantasists. Still, all of us are connected with that underground river which surfaces in the myths of every culture.

We find our own stories in the earliest stories of humankind. Perhaps there are no original stories, just variations of the old, old ones. The joy is that every writer will tell the story in a new way.

Most of your protagonists are underprivileged, abandoned, but at the same time resilient children. Can you please comment on your recurrent choice of these characters?

When we were evacuated from China to the United States, I was an alien in the country my parents called home. We had very little money, and in the beginning my friends were the people I met in the books I read.

I suppose I grew up with an understanding about what it means to be outside the mainstream of society. I used to feel sad for my nine year old self, but I finally realized that all during those difficult days of war and then alienation, I had two parents who loved me. A child with two loving parents is rich indeed. I'm afraid I haven't given most of my characters this gift, but I hope I've provided them with the strength and help they need to endure, and, maybe even triumph over, adversity.

The most striking feature of your writing is introspection, your ability to allow the reader to enter the most concealed corners of a child's mind. At the same time, the reader can always see through the characters and perceive their faults and errors. What is the secret of this highly poignant narrative technique?

I'm such an instinctive writer, it's hard for me to imagine that I have secrets I can articulate. I write without analyzing how I do it. Unlike many who write for children, I don't seem to have a very good memory of the actual events of my childhood (just ask my sisters), but I do have a vivid emotional memory. I can remember how things felt. So I go to that child inside that felt deeply when I write. And I love that child, with all her faults. Perhaps that's a secret of my writing, if there is one. I truly love my very imperfect characters. It occurred to me once that this was one thing that helped me understand how God could love me with all my faults. We do love what we have made.