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Nancy Ruth Patterson (1944-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1944, in St. Louis, MO; present surname, Clemens) Patterson. Education: University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, B.A., 1965, M.A.T., 1971; attended Hollins University. Religion: Episcopalian.

Nancy Ruth Patterson

Agent—Jennifer Unter, RLR Associates, 7 West 51st St., New York, NY 10019.

Writer. Roanoke City Schools, Roanoke, VA, teacher, 1966-99 (retired). Active in the Virginia Artist Residency Program, 2003-06. Board member, Mill Mountain Theatre, Arts Council of the Blue Ridge.

Pioneer Award, National Scholastic Press, for contributions to scholastic journalism; Gold Key Award, Columbia University Scholastic Press Association, for contributions to scholastic journalism; Notable Children's trade Book in the Field of Social Studies citation, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1990; Lifetime Achievement Award, Journalism Education Association; elected to Virginia High School Hall of Fame.

The Christmas Cup, illustrated by Leslie Bowman, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989.

The Shiniest Rock of All, illustrated by Karen A. Jerome, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1991.

A Simple Gift, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.

The Christmas Cup was adapted as a stage play by Jere Lee Hodgin for the Mill Mountain Theatre (Roanoke, VA) first produced in 2003; The Shiniest Rock of All was also adapted as a stage play by Hodgin and produced professionally.

The Winner's Walk, a novel for children.

In Nancy Ruth Patterson's book, A Simple Gift, ten-year-old budding actress Carrie O'Connor heads off to her mother's North Carolina hometown to try out for a part in a play. Not just any play, though, but a production based on one of her mother's popular children's books from the "Michael Madigan" series. Carrie wins a role with her skills but encounters a strict Broadway director, a show-off co-star, and Storm Sellers, a talented lead actor who is repeating the fourth grade because he cannot read or write well. Carrie jeopardizes the entire production when she lets it slip that Storm has to be taught his lines because of his reading problems. In the end, Carrie realizes that the main characters of the play are based on her mother's childhood friends, and that the popular character Michael Madigan is a tribute to her kindly uncle who drowned when he was young. "Good characterizations and a well-developed plot make this an enjoyable read," wrote Marilyn Ackerman in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews critic remarked that the stylistic and storytelling elements of the book—including newspaper articles, questionnaires, and theater terms—come together "beautifully for a conclusion that will satisfy its young readers." Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, concluded that "Those looking for a book with a contemporary setting that harkens back to an earlier era will find it here."

Patterson told SATA: "If anyone had told me fifteen years ago that I would be the author of three novels for children, with more on the way, I would not have believed it. It's not that I haven't always wanted to be a writer. As long as I can remember, I have loved putting pen to paper. But I became a published writer quite by accident.

"I wrote my first novel, The Christmas Cup, as a wedding gift for my brother, Jack Hunter Patterson, Jr. He had long wanted me to record the Christmas memory of our childhood in Bowling Green, Missouri, as a legacy of our family, and in particular, our grandmother, whom we called Nannie.

"All I had hoped for was to have my brother like the way I had written the memory. A friend of mine who had read the manuscript for me had a different vision for it. A writer herself, she sent my manuscript to a publisher without my knowledge, knowing I would probably never submit it for publication myself. The manuscript landed in the hands of Ann Beneduce, a highly respected editor in children's publishing. I will always be grateful for the way she handled my first work—somehow leading me through much-needed and tedious revisions, but always making sure she left my dignity and enthusiasm for writing intact. She and Jeanne Larsen, my professor of creative writing at Hollins University, showed me what it takes to be a master teacher.

"Margaret Ferguson, publisher, and Wesley Adams, senior editor of books for young readers for Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, led me through the revisions of The Shiniest Rock of All and A Simple Gift. Their legacies to me are many, and I am a better writer because they know how to share 'the shiniest rock of all'—hope. They refused to let me give up on a story. Even when a book seemed to be getting nowhere fast, they made me believe that the miracle of figuring it all out could be just five minutes away. Their encouragement, and that of my agents, Christine K. Tomasino and Jennifer Unter, have often kept me at the computer long after I thought it made more sense for me to give up, drink some hot chocolate, and go to bed.

"If The Christmas Cup was inspired by my family, The Shiniest Rock of All was inspired by my own high school students. My thirty-three years of teaching have introduced me to some of the finest people I know, and I regularly call on these former-students-now-turned-friends for help with my writing.

"One student provided the idea for The Shiniest Rock of All. Robert told me at a writing workshop that when he was young, he had always hated the first day of each school year. Since he had a problem saying his r's, he was often teased by other students in his class when he tried to tell the new teacher his name; his 'Robert' always came out 'Wobet.' He had overcome his speech issues long ago and gone on to become one of the best-liked boys in school, but he still remembered his classmates' teasing. His honesty triggered similar confessions from the other students in the class. I remembered many of their confessions—being afraid of slugs and monsters, trick-or-treating as a fried egg, organizing secret clubs, feeling left out because of some perceived inadequacy—as I wrote about a fictional character named Robert who found out you don't have to be perfect to be 'pwetty' good.

"A Simple Gift was inspired by warm memories of seeing my first two novels performed professionally on stage. Watching these books transformed from the page to the stage introduced me first-hand to the old theatre expression 'no matter what, the show must go on!' 2004 finds me trying to finish the manuscript of my fourth novel for children, The Winner's Walk. It deals with two of my favorite subjects—dogs and horses—and the way they combine to shape a young boy's life.

"Because I do remember so many people from my own life fondly, I keep on writing, even though it is usually a struggle for me. I do not ever want the goodness I have found in life to be lost. I want the best I know of life—the strength of my mother and the optimism of my father, the goodness of my grandmother and the honesty of my grandfather, the spirit of my brother and the faith of my friends, my gratitude for my students and the encouragement from my editors—to live on through the characters in my books. I want the lives of those I love to live on through my words. That, quite simply, is why I am a writer."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of A Simple Gift, p. 1472.

Horn Book, November-December, 1991, p. 738. Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of A Simple Gift, pp. 681-682.

Publishers Weekly, August 16, 1991, p. 58.

School Library Journal, October, 1989, p. 44; November, 1991, p. 122; May, 2003, Marilyn Ackerman, review of A Simple Gift, p. 158.

Additional topics

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