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Katherine Anne Porter

Katherine Anne Porter

The works of Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980), American writer, were characterized by delicate perceptions and painstaking craftsmanship.

Katherine Anne Porter was born on May 15, 1890, in Indian Creek, Texas. She was a descendant of Jonathan Boone, brother of Daniel Boone, and a cousin of O. Henry (Sidney Porter). After the death of her mother in 1892, Porter and her four siblings went to live with their paternal grandmother. After her grandmother died in 1901, Porter was sent to several convent schools in Texas and Louisiana.

In 1906 Porter ran away from school and got married; she was divorced 3 years later. In 1911 she went to Chicago to work on a newspaper. She returned to Texas in 1914 and worked briefly as an entertainer, singing Scottish ballads.

From early childhood Porter had been writing stories, an activity she described as the unifying passion of her life, but her writing career began with hackwork, chiefly book reviews and political articles. In 1917 she joined the staff of the Critic, a Fort Worth weekly newspaper, and in 1918-1919 worked for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. She then moved to New York, where she resumed her hackwork, which included some ghost writing. During the 1920s she traveled often to Mexico, wrote articles about the country, and studied art. She also worked on a biography of Cotton Mather (never finished) and did some book reviewing.

Porter's first volume of stories, Flowering Judas (1930), impressed critics with its flawless, unobtrusive style, but the book sold modestly—a fate common to most short-story collections. The title story, a masterpiece, is set in Mexico and turns brilliantly on a character contrast: Braggioni, the fat, sensual, egotistical revolutionary, and Laura, the beautiful, sensitive, sexually frigid idealist who is a mere dilettante in the revolutionary cause. Porter's use of Christian symbolism gives density to this paradoxical study of power and beauty. The title echoes what she described as the theme of her lifetime: self-betrayal in all its forms.

Flowering Judas won a Guggenheim fellowship for Porter to study abroad, and after a brief stay in Mexico she sailed in 1932 from Veracruz to Bremerhaven (which provided the setting for a novel completed 30 years later, Ship of Fools). A second volume of stories, Hacienda (1934), and a short novel, Noon Wine (1937), followed her marriage in 1933 to Eugene Pressly, a member of the U.S. Foreign Service in Paris. After divorcing Pressly, she married Albert Russell Erskine, Jr., whom she divorced in 1942.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1942) consists of three short novels, including Noon Wine. The title work is a bitter, tragic tale of a young woman's love for a World War I soldier who dies of influenza. It further established Porter's place in American literature: the impeccable artist of meager output. The title story of The Leaning Tower and Other Stories (1944), set in Berlin, deals with the menace of Nazism. The Days Before (1952) is a collection of essays, chiefly critical.

Porter's only novel, Ship of Fools (1962), was an immediate best seller but drew mixed reviews. Based on Das Narrenschiff, Sebastian Brant's 15th-century moral allegory, it examines the lives of an international group of voyagers; their human folly thwarts their personal lives and blinds them as well to the incipience of German fascism.

Porter became widely acknowledged outside her native Texas, where she was considered the best author who ever hailed from the state, even supplanting her cousin, the author O. Henry (Texas Monthly, May 1997). Among her many writing honors were a Texas Institute of Letters fiction award for Ship of Fools, and a Pulitzer Prize for her Collected Stories in 1966.

Porter's early life in Texas fostered a distaste for the lack of rights for women and social injustice had spurred her to leave, and later became entwined in her writings. The state, which still revered cowboys and the old west, for years failed to accord her status. What local critics sometimes dismissed as overly "genteel, " outsiders termed "perfection of form and style" (Texas Monthly, May, 1997).

Porter chose the University of Maryland as site of her personal library, begun with donations of some personal papers (she had received a honorary degree from the university in 1966). In Texas, her childhood home in Kyle was turned into a museum, a smaller structure in reality than her later reminiscences.

But one of the more unusual bits of Porter memorabilia was claimed by the Southwestern Writers Collection at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. It was her typewritten recipe for a "genuine Mole Poblana, " Mexico's "National Dish, " she wrote, with chili and chocolate (Texas Monthly, January 1997). Apparently learned during two years living there, it was a testament to her exciting, nomadic life after her conversion to Catholicism and abandonment of an early, strict Protestant influence during childhood.

Porter died on September 18, 1980, at the age of 90, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her ashes were buried at Indian Creek beside her mother's grave. However, her writing continued to live on. The Letters of Katherine Anne Porter were published a decade later.

Further Reading

There has been very little written about Porter. George Hendrick, Katherine Anne Porter (1965), is a competent critical biography. See also Harry John Mooney, The Fiction and Criticism of Katherine Anne Porter (1957). Articles of interest can be found in two issues of Texas Monthly (January 1997 and May 1997). Information on the Katherine Anne Porter Library at the University of Maryland can be accessed on the Internet at http://www.lib.umd.edu/UMCP/RARE/797hmpgM.html (July 29, 1997). Porter's obituary appeared in the September 19, 1980 edition of the New York Times.

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Porter, Katherine Anne

Katherine Anne Porter

Born: May 15, 1890
Indian Creek, Texas
Died: September 18, 1980
Silver Spring, Maryland

American author

American writer Katherine Anne Porter, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1966, was known for her delicate observations and precise descriptions.

Early life

Katherine Anne Porter was born on May 15, 1890, in Indian Creek, Texas, the fourth of five children of Harrison Boone Porter and Mary Alice Jones. She was a descendant of Jonathan Boone, brother of the famous explorer Daniel Boone (17341820), and her father, a farmer, was a second cousin of the writer O. Henry (Sidney Porter) (1862 1910). After her mother died in 1892, Porter and her siblings went to live with their grandmother. After her grandmother died in 1901, Porter was sent to several convent (an establishment of nuns) schools in Texas and Louisiana. In 1906 Porter ran away from school and got married; she was divorced three years later. In 1914 she went to Chicago, Illinois, to pursue an acting career. She returned to Texas later that year and worked briefly as a singer.

From early childhood Porter had been writing stories, an activity she described as the passion of her life. In 1917 she joined the staff of the Critic, a Fort Worth, Texas, weekly newspaper, and in 1918 and 1919 she worked for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, writing mostly book reviews and political articles. She then moved to New York City, where she continued to write. During the 1920s she traveled often to Mexico, wrote articles about the country, and studied art. She also worked on a biography of minister and author Cotton Mather (16631728) and wrote some book reviews.

Published works

Porter's first volume of stories, Flowering Judas (1930), impressed critics, although it did not sell very well. It won a Guggenheim fellowship (an award with a cash prize intended to be used for study or research) that allowed her to study abroad, and after a brief stay in Mexico she sailed in 1932 to Bremerhaven, Germany (which provided the setting for her only novel, Ship of Fools ). A second volume of stories, Hacienda (1934), and a short novel, Noon Wine (1937), followed her marriage in 1933 to Eugene Pressly, a member of the U.S. Foreign Service in Paris, France. After divorcing Pressly, she married Albert Russell Erskine Jr., whom she divorced in 1942.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1942) consists of three short novels, including Noon Wine. The title work is a bitter, tragic tale of a young woman's love for a soldier who dies of influenza (the flu). The title story of The Leaning Tower and Other Stories (1944), set in Berlin, Germany, deals with the menace of Nazism (a German political movement that scorned democracy and attempted to wipe out other races of people, such as the Jews, who were considered inferior to the Germans). The Days Before (1952) is a collection of essays. Ship of Fools (1962) was a best seller but drew mixed reviews. Based on Sebastian Brant's (c. 14581521) fifteenth-century novel Das Narrenschiff, it examines the lives of an international group of voyagers, whose human folly alters their personal lives and blinds them to the growth of Nazism.

Porter was for many years more popular everywhere else in the country but her home state of Texas, where stories of cowboys and the old west were more popular than anything else. Her unhappiness with the social injustice and lack of rights for women in the state was one of the factors that led her to leave, and she often addressed these issues in her writings. Still, Porter came to be considered the best author who ever hailed from Texas. She won a Texas Institute of Letters fiction award for Ship of Fools and a Pulitzer Prize for her Collected Stories in 1966.

Later years

Porter chose the University of Maryland, from which she had received a honorary degree (a degree achieved without meeting the usual requirements) in 1966, as the site of her personal library, begun with donations of some personal papers. In Texas, her childhood home in Kyle was turned into a museum. In addition, the Southwestern Writers Collection at Southwest Texas State University contains her typewritten recipe for a "genuine Mole Poblana," Mexico's "National Dish," she wrote, with chili and chocolate (Texas Monthly, January 1997). Apparently learned during two years living in Mexico, it was a tribute to her exciting life after her abandonment of her early, strict religious upbringing.

Katherine Anne Porter died on September 18, 1980, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her ashes were buried at Indian Creek beside her mother's grave. However, her writing continued to live on. The Letters of Katherine Anne Porter were published after her death.

For More Information

Bloom, Harold, ed. Katherine Anne Porter. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House, 2001.

Busby, Mark, and Dick Heaberlin, eds. From Texas to the World and Back: Essays on the Journeys of Katherine Anne Porter. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2001.

Givner, Joan. Katherine Anne Porter: A Life. Rev. ed. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991.

Hendrick, George. Katherine Anne Porter. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1965.

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Porter, Katherine Anne

Katherine Anne Porter, 1890–1980, American author, b. Indian Creek, Tex., as Callie Russell Porter. Although she published infrequently, she is regarded as a master of the short story. Her first book of stories, Flowering Judas (1930), received immediate recognition and critical acclaim. It was followed by Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), which includes the superb novella Noon Wine, and The Leaning Tower (1944). Her stories have been praised for their technical accomplishments in matters of style, form, and language. A collection of her essays and occasional pieces appeared as The Days Before (1952). Her only long novel, the best-selling Ship of Fools, was published in 1962 and made into a film three years later. Set aboard a German ship shortly before Hitler's accession to power, the novel is a moral allegory that attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a world on the brink of disaster.

See her Collected Stories (1965; Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award), Katherine Anne Porter: Collected Stories and Other Writings (2008), ed. by D. H. Unrue; I. Bayley, ed., Letters of Katherine Anne Porter (1990); J. Givner, ed., Katherine Anne Porter: Conversations (1987); biographies by J. Givner (1984) and D. H. Unrue (2005); studies by R. Penn Warren (1971), H. Bloom (1986), G. and W. Hendrick (1988), R. H. Brinkmeyer, Jr. (1993), J. P. Stout (1995), D. H. Unrue (1985, 1988, and as ed. 1997), and M. Titus (2005); bibliography by K. Hill (1989).

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Porter, Katherine Anne

Porter, Katherine Anne (1890–1980) US short-story writer. She won acclaim with her first collection, Flowering Judas (1930). Later works include Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), The Leaning Tower (1944), and her best-known work, Ship of Fools (1962). Her Collected Stories won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966.

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