Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Katherine Paterson: Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

This is a picture of my desk. Ignore the clutter. Look at my "inspiration shelf" of books---the books I want to look at while I write. The book on the far right, just before the dragon bookmark, is Katherine Paterson's collection of essays, A Sense of Wonder.  (You might also be able to see her The Great Gilly Hopkins and Jacob Have I Loved, as well as a hardback (signed!) copy of Preacher Boy.

You can imagine how thrilled I am that Katherine Paterson---wise, funny, humble, profound, brilliant Katherine Paterson--- has been named as the next National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I will always remember her slipping into another writer's talk at the L.A. SCBWI conference, and taking a seat two seats over from me in the back reaches of the cavernous main ballroom. She was dressed in plain black clothes and looked like the most ordinary of the ordinary, a woman with no makeup, practical shoes, and not a whiff of pretention about her. Thirty minutes later, she went to the podium in that huge ballroom and laid a spell on the thousands who listened, breathless, to her words. We laughed, we ached, we were opened up to things larger than ourselves. She was extraordinary.

Here is a taste of what we have in store for the next two years of Katherine's service:

(From Do I Dare Disturb the Universe, collected in A Sense of Wonder, first published in The Horn Book, September 1984)

"My primary task is not to disturb a complacent universe or to decry a chaotic one. My task is to see through the disturbance to the unity so marvelously built into the Creation---to somehow find my way though the cacophony of reality to the harmony of truth. I have said elsewhere that my task is to write the best, the truest, story I know how to write. Someone may find these two statements contradictory. I do not." ---Katherine Paterson

Welcome, Ambassador Paterson. I wonder, will you enjoy flashing your Ambassador Medal as much as the irrepressible Jon Scieszka did? Or will you tuck it inside your outfit and walk incognito into a room as you always have?


  1. I love your jumbled desk. It's bursting with life and color. Inspiring and full of possibilty.

  2. She would look lovely in a sash, but seems likely to wear it under her black jacket somehow, don't you think?

    Love that photo and your inspirational items. Because of Winn Dixie is on my shelf of "books I wish I'd written". And yes, I have such a thing.

  3. I think that even the clutter looks inspiring.

    Paterson's work amazes me over and over. She's an excellent choice for ambassador of pretty much anything, I'd say.

  4. are you sure that is not my desk?

  5. Katherine Paterson just amazes me. Everything she says/writes is just so WISE. They really could not have picked a better person to be ambassador. Okay, I'll stop the worshiping now. :-)

  6. in response to your cluttered desk...
    "if a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then is an empty dest a sign of? -Albert Einstein

  7. I love this woman. She generously answered gushing fan mail I wrote years ago.

    The two times I've heard her speak, I have been amazed at her lack of pretension.

    Last year I entered the Hunger Mountain competition she judged, just so she would read my work.

    What a gift she will be these next two years!

  8. oh, the "harmony of truth" indeed...
    we are so lucky she exists. and writes...


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