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Gary Schmidt

The Grail Is Real

A conversation with Katherine Paterson.

I sit in John and Katherine Paterson's cottage living room on a day whose tones are as perfect as a bell. A corridor of evergreens leads down to the lake, and the water reflects a sky that holds only a single cloud for accent. We watch and wait for a white sailboat to come by, and it does, as if it knew that it alone was needed to complete the picture. I listen for my five children whom John and my wife have taken down to the beach; the sixth lies asleep in the next room, having had his fill of driving up and down and up and down the long slopes that led us there, thank you.

Katherine is just back from a retreat, an annual one that she would never miss, and is beginning to think about the conference up in Maine in a couple of weeks. Tomorrow she will be in Boston, where she will meet with a group of Newbery and Caldecott Award winners to work on a citywide literacy project. We sit down, and one of her editors calls. Then another. I look at the stacks of books around me and pick up The Seed People while I wait. Katherine is reading through these in her work as chair for the National Book Award. When she comes back, she waves her hands and gives an exasperated laugh, long and deep. "I am," she explains, "on vacation this month."

I am reluctant to turn on the tape recorder, to establish the protocol and formality of the literary interview. Katherine is the neighbor next door, the friend who gladdens the day, the favorite aunt who wants to know—who truly wants to know—how it is with you. You would no more tape her laughter and easy talk than you would theirs. Later, when we are all swimming in the lake, I have to keep reminding myself that this is the winner of a couple of National Book Awards and more Newbery Medals and honors than you can shake a stick at. As more people come down to the water, I wonder whether they know, whether this prophet is honored in Nazareth. My son, who is eight and always hungry, wonders if the prophet has anything to eat back up at ...

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