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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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Porter, Katherine Anne

PORTER, Katherine Anne

Born 15 May 1890, Indian Creek, Texas; died 18 September 1980, Silver Spring, Maryland

Daughter of Harrison B. and Mary Jones Porter; married 1906; Eugene D. Pressly, 1933; Albert R. Erskine, Jr., 1938

Katherine Anne Porter was the fourth of five children, a descendant of pioneers. Her mother died as a young woman, and Porter was raised by her father and paternal grandmother.

Although Porter is generally acknowledged to be a master stylist, she rarely earned her living directly through her writing. Instead, she supported herself through a variety of related activities: as a reporter, writer of screenplays in Hollywood, translator, hack writer, and most often, as a lecturer, writer-in-residence, and guest speaker. Porter has received a number of honorary degrees and an impressive range of prestigious literary awards, including Guggenheim fellowships in 1931 and 1938, Fulbright and Ford Foundation grants in the 1950s, an O. Henry Award in 1962, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for her Collected Stories (1965).

Porter traveled extensively, lived often in Europe and Mexico, been married three times, and involved herself in political events. Yet these activities are only peripherally reflected in her stories. She makes a clear distinction between adventure, something you do to find an "illusion of being more alive than ordinarily," and experience, which is "what really happens to you in the long run; the truth that finally overtakes you." The latter is the subject of Porter's prose. She delights in revealing through microcosmic events truths about human nature.

"The Downward Path to Wisdom" (The Leaning Tower, and Other Stories, 1944) is a pivotal story in understanding the etiology of disillusionment in Porter's work. The protagonist, a child named Stephen, is shuffled from adult to adult in an awkward and futile attempt to keep him unaware of his parents' quarreling. Porter emphasizes Stephen's genuineness by continually alluding to his sensual awareness of being warm, bare, embraced, sticky, scrubbed roughly, etc. In contrast, Porter shows us, through the overheard dialogue of the parents, that they experience him simply as a reminder of their growing antipathy. She deftly controls the emergence of Stephen's final decision to set himself emotionally apart from these people who "love" him by juxtaposing the child's motives with the adults' harsh judgements of him. Stephen's final rejection of them seems healthy, yet Porter manages to convey that the act of rejection forecasts Stephen's own inability to love as an adult.

Some of Porter's best stories reflect the deterioration of relationships, especially of marriages, which are corrupted by the bitterness and anger accompanying dependence. Porter has said that one's spouse is a "necessary enemy," for whom we cannot help but feel both love and hate because we resent our need for him or her. Porter characterizes one such marriage in "Rope" (Flowering Judas, and Other Stories, 1930). The husband and wife quarrel over his purchase of some unneeded rope, and their discussion evolves into a destructive verbal battle about the entire relationship and their disappointments in one another. Porter conveys the tediously repetitive nature of these complaints by quoting them obliquely: "She had her notion of what had kept him in town. Considerably more than a notion, if he wanted to know. So, she was going to bring all that up again, was she? Well, she could just think what she pleased." Porter's use of this intriguing narrative technique shows us the depth of sarcasm, bitterness, and emotional stinginess underlying this marriage and belies the appearance of reconciliation at the end of the story. In Porter's carefully crafted stories, narrative technique fuses with meaning in an almost perfect merging of form and content.

Porter's portraits of relationships ring true because she has a perfect eye for the tiny, telling domestic detail. Time and again, a single incident conveys the character of an entire relationship. In "Noon Wine" (Pale Horse, Pale Rider, 1939), Mr. Thompson affectionately yet cruelly pinches his wife Ellie, and we are introduced to those notions about himself, his intense, masculine pride, that will make Mr. Thompson capable of killing a man later in the story. "Noon Wine" is a study of sources of violence and self-betrayal in essentially good people.

The disappointments that grow between people are evident in both men and women in Porter's stories, but perhaps because her own awareness is based so firmly in feminine realities, Porter is especially effective in depicting the limitations in relationships as women experience them, or rather, the limiting relationships that she saw as the only ones allowed to women. In stores based around the experiences of Miranda (the character who seems most similar to Porter), Miranda's grandmother (based on Porter's grandmother), and others, Porter implies that for a woman the rejection of close and demanding relationships is virtually the only means of finding autonomy.

In the three sections of "Old Mortality," we see Miranda (raised with her sister by a likeable, average father and a strong-willed grandmother) withdraw successively further from the family myths which have comprised her whole understanding of reality as a young child. Miranda cannot reconcile what adults tell her about the beautiful, romantic, exciting, and perfect past (especially Aunt Amy, around whom an entire legend has been built) with the shabby remnants of the past she finds around her. At eighteen, Miranda realizes that the unequivocally negative memories of Cousin Eva, a poor defeated relative of Amy, are just as distorted as the romantic, tragic account the family has always given her and, drawing back from this massive collusion of lies, tells herself, in "her hopefulness, her ignorance," that whatever else, she will live her life without illusions. Porter knows this is naive and that there are no easy answers.

For all of Porter's thoughtful characters, life involves introspection, disappointment, and moral dilemmas. If her characters (like her married couples) stay in their oppressive relationships, resentment eats away at them. If they break free, they are terribly alone. It is not surprising Porter projects onto her primitive characters—such as the eponymous Mexican in the story "María Concepción" (Flowering Judas) and the Spanish dancers in Ship of Fools (1962)—the very strengths which she believes introspective people cannot achieve: a passionate, unselfconscious, unquestioning spontaneity that carries with it no moral complications.

Ship of Fools, Porter's long-awaited novel, appeared in 1962. Porter was deeply shaken by the two world wars and by world events that for decades threatened the human race with catastrophe. She tells us much of her energy in those years was given to an attempt "to grasp the meaning of those threats, to trace them to their sources and to understand the logic of this majestic and terrible failure of the life of man in the Western world." Porter's allegorical novel became an exploration into the possible sources of human evil and particularly into the states of mind which could account for such horrors as the Holocaust.

The story takes place on a German freighter-passenger ship traveling from Veracruz, Mexico, to Bremerhaven, Germany, in late summer of 1931, with a passenger list representing various nationalities. To the degree that the characters become stereotypes for particular countries, the novel seems a failure, for its ironies are heavyhanded and the notes of prophecy seem contrived, written as they were long after World War II. But on the level of individual human encounters, Porter's portrayals are meticulous, vivid, and often engrossing. In depicting a range of individuals preoccupied with their narrow personal concerns, she shows acute perception of how we tend to blind ourselves to external realities and become culpable in evil events.

Ultimately, the pleasures we find in reading Porter's stories prove to be subtle ones: the frequent perfection of her choice of words and details and commentary on a character's behavior; the telling scenes; the recognitions about human nature; the ironic narrative; and her understanding of the pleasures of childhood (always being crushed by somber adult realities), of the stories we tell ourselves to make our lives make sense, of the self-delusions, self-betrayals, and ultimate isolation of each of us. Her perceptions are acute, and her prose is often superb. Porter severely limited the number of stories she would allow to be published, yet her choices seem to have been wise ones, for they offer us a surprisingly consistent vitality in their revelation of human truths.

Other Works:

Outline of Mexican Popular Arts and Crafts (1922). Katherine Anne Porter's French Song Book (1933). Hacienda: A Story of Mexico (1934). Noon Wine (1937). The Itching Parrot (1942). The Old Order: Stories of the South (1944). The Days Before (1952). A Defense of Circe (1955). Holiday (1962). A Christmas Story (1967). The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter (1970).

Bibliography:

Arima, H., The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty (dissertation 1998). Auchincloss, L., Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of Nine American Women Writers (1965). Bayley, I., ed., Letters of Katherine Anne Porter (1990). Bennett, M., Twenty-Two Texas Women: Strong, Tough, and Independent (1996). Bloom, H., ed., American Women Fiction Writers, Volume Three 1900-1960 (1998). Bredeson, C., American Writers of the 20th Century (1996). Curry, K. C., The Art of a Genteel Rebel: The Craft of Katherine Anne Porter's Fiction (dissertation 1996). DeMouy, J. K., Katherine Anne Porter's Women (1983). Emmons, W. S., Katherine Anne Porter: The Regional Stories (1967). Gardner, J., The Conflicts of Life in the Works of Katherine Anne Porter (thesis 1994). Givner, J., Katherine Anne Porter: A Life (1982, 1991). Hardy, J. E., Katherine Anne Porter (1973). Hartley, L., and G. Core, eds., Katherine Anne Porter: A Critical Symposium (1969). Hendrick, G., Katherine Anne Porter (1965). Horn, T., To Grandmother's House We Go: Modern Grandmother Archetypes in Works by Porter, Hurston, McCarthy, O'Connor, and Olsen (dissertation 1997). Kiernan, R. F., Katherine Anne Porter and Carson McCullers: A Reference Guide (1976). Krishnamurthi, M. G., Katherine Anne Porter: A Study (1971). Liberman, M. M., Katherine Anne Porter's Fiction (1971). Magill, F. N., ed., Great Women Writers: The Lives and Works of 135 of the World's Most Important Women Writers, From Antiquity to the Present (1994). Mooney, H. J., Jr., The Fiction and Criticism of Katherine Anne Porter (1962). Nance, W. L., Katherine Anne Porter and the Art of Rejection (1964). Nesbitt, A. S., ed., Short Story Criticism: Excerpts From Criticism of the Works of Short Fiction Writers (1999). Plimpton, G., ed., Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews (1998). Stout, J. P., Katherine Anne Porter: A Sense of the Times (1995). Unrue, D. H., ed., Critical Essays on Katherine Anne Porter (1997). Unrue, D. H., ed., This Strange Old World and Other Book Reviews by Katherine Anne Porter (1991). Waldrip, L., and S. A. Bauer, eds., A Bibliography of the Works of Katherine Anne Porter, and A Bibliography of the Criticism of the Works of Katherine Anne Porter (1969). Wescott, G., "Katherine Anne Porter, Personally," in Images of Truth: Remembrances and Criticism (1962). West, R. B., Jr., Katherine Anne Porter (1963).

Reference works:

CA (1999). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

America (Nov. 1990). American Literature (1996). Book World (Aug. 1995). Literature and Medicine (Fall 1998). NYTBR (Apr. 1995). Southwest Review (Winter 1996). Twentieth Century Literature (1998).

—GAIL MORTIMER

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Porter, Katherine Anne

PORTER, Katherine Anne

Nationality: American. Born: Callie Russell Porter in Indian Creek, Texas, 15 May 1890. Education: Thomas School, San Antonio, Texas. Family: Married 1) John Henry Koontz in 1906 (separated 1914; divorced 1915); 2) Ernest Stock in 1925; 3) Eugene Dove Pressly in 1933 (divorced 1938); 4) Albert Russell Erskine, Jr., in 1938 (divorced 1942). Career: Journalist and film extra in Chicago, 1911-14; tuberculosis patient, Dallas and San Angelo, Texas, and New Mexico, 1915-17; worked with tubercular children in Dallas, 1917; staff member, Fort Worth Critic, Texas, 1917-18; reporter, 1918, and drama critic, 1919, Rocky Mountain News, Denver; lived in New York, 1919, and mainly in Mexico, 1920-31, and Europe in 1930s; copy editor, Macauley and Company, publishers, New York, 1928-29; taught at Olivet College, Michigan, 1940; Library of Congress Fellow in Regional American Literature, 1944; contract writer for MGM, Hollywood, 1945-46; lecturer in writing, Stanford University, California, 1948-49; guest lecturer in literature, University of Chicago, Spring 1951; visiting lecturer in contemporary poetry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1953-54; Fulbright lecturer, University of Liège, Belgium, 1954-55; writer-in-residence, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Autumn 1958; Glasgow Professor, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, Spring 1959; lecturer in American literature for U.S. Department of State, in Mexico, 1960, 1964; Ewing Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles, 1960; Regents' Lecturer, University of California, Riverside, 1961. U.S. delegate, International Festival of the Arts, Paris, 1952; member, Commission on Presidential Scholars, 1964; consultant in poetry, Library of Congress, 1965-70. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1931, 1938; New York University Libraries gold medal, 1940; Ford Foundation grant, 1959, 1960; O. Henry award, 1962; Emerson-Thoreau medal, 1962; Pulitzer prize, 1966; National Book award, 1966; American Academy gold medal, 1967; Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award, 1972. D.Litt.: University of North Carolina Woman's College, Greensboro, 1949; Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1958; Maryville College, St. Louis, 1968. D.H.L.: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1954; University of Maryland, College Park, 1966; Maryland Institute, 1974. D.F.A.: La Salle College, Philadelphia, 1962. Vice-president, National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1950-52. Member: American Academy, 1967. Died: 18 September 1980.

Publications

Collections

Uncollected Early Prose of Katherine Anne Porter. 1993.

Katherine Anne Porter's Poetry. 1996.

Short Stories

Flowering Judas. 1930; augmented edition, as Flowering Judas and Other Stories, 1935.

Hacienda: A Story of Mexico. 1934.

Noon Wine (novella). 1937.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels (includes Noon Wine and "Old Mortality"). 1939.

The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. 1944.

Selected Short Stories. 1945.

The Old Order: Stories of the South. 1955.

A Christmas Story. 1958.

Collected Stories. 1964; augmented edition, 1967.

Novel

Ship of Fools. 1962.

Other

My Chinese Marriage. 1921.

Outline of Mexican Popular Arts and Crafts. 1922.

What Price Marriage. 1927.

The Days Before: Collected Essays and Occasional Writings.1952; augmented edition, as The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings, 1970.

A Defense of Circe. 1955.

The Never-Ending Wrong (on the Sacco-Vanzetti case). 1977.

Conversations with Porter, Refugee from Indian Creek, with Enrique Hank Lopez. 1981.

Porter: Conversations, edited by Joan Givner. 1987.

Letters, edited by Isabel Bayley. 1990.

The Strange Old World and Other Book Reviews by Porter, edited by Darlene Unrue. 1991.

Translator, French Song-Book. 1933.

Translator, The Itching Parrot, by Fernandez de Lizárdi. 1942.

*

Bibliography:

A Bibliography of the Works of Porter and A Bibliography of the Criticism of the Works of Porter by Louise Waldrip and Shirley Ann Bauer, 1969; Porter and Carson McCullers: A Reference Guide by Robert F. Kiernan, 1976; Porter: An Annotated Bibliography by Kathryn Hilt and Ruth M. Alvarez, 1990.

Critical Studies:

The Fiction and Criticism of Porter by Harry John Mooney, Jr., 1957, revised edition, 1962; Porter by Ray B. West, Jr., 1963; Porter and the Art of Rejection by William L. Nance, 1964; Porter by George Hendrick, 1965, revised edition, with Willene Hendrick, 1988; Porter: The Regional Sources by Winifred S. Emmons, 1967; Porter: A Critical Symposium edited by Lodwick Hartley and George Core, 1969; Porter's Fiction by M. M. Liberman, 1971; Porter by John Edward Hardy, 1973; Porter: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Robert Penn Warren, 1979; Porter: A Life by Joan Givner, 1982, revised edition, 1991; Porter's Women: The Eye of Her Fiction by Jane Krause DeMouy, 1983; Truth and Vision in Porter's Fiction, 1985, and Understanding Porter, 1988, both by Darlene H. Unrue; The Texas Legacy of Porter by James T. Tanner, 1990; Katherine Anne Porter's Artistic Development: Primitivism, Traditionalism, and Totalitarianism by Robert H. Brinkmeyer, 1993; Katherine Anne Porter: A Sense of the Times by Janis P. Stout, 1995; Critical Essays on Katherine Anne Porter edited by Darlene Harbour Unrue, 1997.

* * *

Katherine Anne Porter's short novels Noon Wine, "Old Mortality," and "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" brought her great artistic praise and her long novel Ship of Fools was a commercial success, but much of her best work was in short fiction. She began writing about Mexico, her "familiar country," in her first story "María Concepción" (1922). In that story she showed a complete mastery of form, plunging the reader into the amoral-moral world of the Indian and by extension plumbing the depth of all human existence. As is often the case in her fiction, a strong woman triumphs over a weak man. The two stories that followed—"The Martyr" (1923) and "Virgin Violeta" (1924)—are slight, as is "That Tree"(1934). "Flowering Judas" (1930), also set in Mexico, has been recognized as one of her best stories. She then finished a lost-generation story—"Hacienda" (1932, published as Hacienda: A Story of Mexico, 1934), a thinly disguised account of Sergei Eisenstein's filming of Que Viva Mexico! This story of spiritual, physical, moral, and psychological isolation is one of her most underrated works.

Alienated from Mexican culture, Porter turned to recreating and mythologizing her Southern heritage and her own past in Texas. "The Source" (1941) is the first story in a series called "The Old Order" and is a remarkable sketch of the grandmother's power and control over the family, revealing the grandmother as the source of the strengths and weaknesses of the whole family. The fictional grandmother, based largely on the author's own grandmother Porter who took over the rearing of the Porter children after the death of Katherine Anne Porter's mother, was portrayed as a strong woman married to a weak man. Family history, including the relationships with slaves who in the fictional version remained with the family after they had been freed, was explored in "The Witness" (1944), "The Journey" (1936), and "The Last Leaf" (1944). "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" (1929) is a presentation of the grandmother figure, but it is not a Miranda story.

Porter wrote several autobiographic stories in which she appears as the character Miranda: "The Fig Tree" (1960), "The Circus" (1935), "The Grave" (1935), "Old Mortality" (1938), and "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" (1938). In these often-anthologized stories Porter traced the growth of Miranda from early childhood to maturity, from innocence to her initiation into the mysteries of the world. These stories about the family and Miranda, taken together, are equal to the artistic achievement of her two best Mexican stories, "María Concepción" and "Flowering Judas."

Porter, born in poverty into a family that had seen better days before the Civil War, also wrote a series of stories about the rural South she knew as a child—"He" (1927), Noon Wine, and "Holiday" (1960). The first two are tragic stories of Anglo families, and "Holiday," set on the farm of a German family, reflects her loathing of Germans, an attitude shown even more definitively in "The Leaning Tower" (1941) and Ship of Fools. Another story, "Magic" (1928), uses the form of the dramatic monologue, and as Joan Givner, Porter's biographer, has noted, the theme is "the passive promotion of evil by innocent people, which would run through [Porter's] works in a steady, unbroken line until it reached its fullest expression in Ship of Fools." Porter's stories "Rope" (1928), about a failed marriage, "The Downward Path to Wisdom" (1939), based on a childhood memory of Glenway Wescott's, "The Cracked Looking-Glass" (1932), a Joycean-like story, and "A Day's Work" (1940), set among the Irish poor in New York, though interesting, lack the vitality of Porter's best work.

"Theft" (1929) has been one her most explicated stories. The search for love, both profane and sacred, is an important theme in this complex story. The central character is a wasteland figure, an alienated woman left finally without any kind of love. Porter's best stories are marked by a mastery of technique, by honesty, and by an exploration of the human heart and mind and society itself without lapsing into popular clichés. She had developed her fictional techniques by the time she published "María Concepción," and technically she showed little change in the decades that followed. She was a conscious writer, in the tradition of Joyce, James, and Cather. She rightly considered herself an artist: "I'm one of the few living people not afraid to pronounce that word," she said in 1958. Her literary production was not great in volume, but several of her stories are considered by most critics as belonging in that small group called America's best.

—George Hendrick

See the essays on "Flowering Judas" and Noon Wine.

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Porter, Katherine Anne

PORTER, Katherine Anne

(b. 15 May 1890 in Indian Creek, Texas; d. 18 September 1980 in Silver Spring, Maryland), prize-winning short-story writer and novelist who was in the forefront of the "women's literature" of the 1960s.

Born Callie Russell, Porter was the fourth of five children of Harrison Boone Porter, a farmer, and Mary Alice Jones Porter (who died when Porter was nearly two). The children were reared by their grandmother, Catherine Anne Skaggs Porter, until her death in 1901 and then by a cousin near San Antonio, Texas. Through the fictional Miranda Gay, whom Porter identified as her alter ego, Porter implied that the family of her childhood was more genteel, educated, and wealthy than it was.

After her marriage at age sixteen to John Henry Koontz in June 1906, Porter moved to New York City and, with little formal schooling, worked as a journalist and publicist. In 1915 she legally adopted her grandmother's name with a slight change in spelling. After a divorce (1915) and several years in Mexico, Porter finally began her career as a short-story writer in 1922 with "María Concepción." In 1926 she was briefly married to Ernest Stock. In 1931 Porter received a Guggenheim Fellowship and went to Germany, and in 1933 she married Eugene Dove Pressly, who worked in the U.S. Consulate in Paris. Porter received another Guggenheim in 1938, the year she was divorced from Pressly. That year she married Albert Erskine, but they, too, divorced, in 1942. She was writer in residence or member of the English faculty at several noted universities and in 1959 became the first female faculty member in the history of Washington and Lee University.

Porter's major works, highly praised short stories and novellas, were written from the 1920s to the 1940s, and she became a major figure in the 1960s as a result of the reassessment of her early works. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1965) received the 1966 Pulitzer Prize and the 1966 National Book Award as well as the Gold Medal for Fiction of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The short stories and novellas had long received the highest critical acclaim. Married and divorced several times, with no children, Porter became a public figure of "women's liberation" and was frequently photographed with a succession of men, often considerably younger than she was. Porter often compared the characters and lives of the women in her stories to her own life and experience. Like Porter herself, Miranda in "Old Mortality" "knew now why she had run away to marriage, and she knew that she was going to run away from marriage … with anyone that threatened to forbid her making her own discoveries."

Although Porter occasionally commented that she was not sympathetic to all the ideology of modern feminism, many of her women characters are staunch individualists. Most of her female protagonists are hardy survivors, as shown in "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," which tells the story of a single woman who raises her children alone in a hostile frontier territory. Similarly, Jenny Brown in Ship of Fools rejects her fiancé because he attacks her sense of self-worth. "Men are continually accusing women of trying to castrate them by insulting their maleness," Porter wrote in 1958. "When a woman loves a man, she builds him up … [but] it is his deepest instinct to destroy, quite often subtly, insidiously, but constantly and endlessly, her very center of being, her confidence in herself as woman." Such themes earned Porter's work a place in the emerging women's studies movement.

A second thread of Porter's work that resonated in the 1960s was the awareness of Mexican culture. As well as growing up in the Southwest and spending time in Mexico, she had met several Mexican artists in Greenwich Village and wrote the story of a Mexican ballet performed in Mexico City in 1923. Porter became deeply immersed in Mexico's culture, especially Aztec and Mayan art and crafts, and was involved in political conflicts, which laid the ground-work for such stories as "Flowering Judas" and "Hacienda." In the late 1920s she fled Mexico when the Mexican government accused her of being a Bolshevik. Porter wrote to the editor of Century in July 1923, "My America has been a borderland of strange tongues and commingled races, and if they are not American, I am fearfully mistaken. And, to my mind, this includes Mexico."

Having also lived in Europe in the 1930s, Porter was aware of increasing tensions between Germany and France. She began working on Ship of Fools in 1945, and several of her characters attack the way the ship's officers and passengers express overt hostility toward the Jewish Germans. In 1946 she wrote, "I believe that human beings are capable of total evil, but no one has ever been totally good, and this gives the edge to evil." Consistent with that viewpoint, Porter said in April 1962 that the novel's point is "that evil is always done with the collusion of good."

The initial response to Ship of Fools (1962) was very positive. Porter wrote in the preface to the novel that the German ship Vera was a "simple almost universal image of the ship of this world on its voyage to eternity.… I am a passenger on that ship." Although the novel may seem like a pastiche of short stories without a primary character or central plotline, Porter's general focus is on the lesser forms of evil, its pettiness and all-pervasiveness. Even those not actively evil contribute to evil by their tolerance of it or by ignoring it. The novel also observes women at transitional points in their lives: a widow; a political exile, La Condesa; an unattractive young woman travelling with her parents; and two figures comparable to Porter herself, the artist Jenny Brown and an American woman self-exiled to Paris. The novel and its subsequent film (1965) brought Porter critical acclaim and wealth.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Porter continued her journalism, gave interviews, and wrote book reviews. In 1972 Playboy magazine sent her to Cape Canaveral to cover an Apollo moon mission. Her last major publication, The Never-Ending Wrong (1977), was an account of her protest against the verdict in the 1921 Sacco-Vanzetti case. (The political radicals Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were accused of robbery and murder in Massachusetts and eventually were executed for their alleged crimes despite conflicting evidence and the confession of another man.) From the late 1970s Porter lived in Maryland, where she died after a series of strokes. Her remains were cremated and buried in a small cemetery in Indian Creek, Texas, beside her mother's grave.

Shortly after Porter's death, the American poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren wrote of her in the Saturday Review that she had "created an oeuvre … keenly aware of the depth and darkness of human experience … and thoroughly committed to a quest for meaning in the midst of … ironic complexities." Porter's style is marked by rhetorical beauty and balance; her simple and clear dialogue is appropriate to each speaker. The remarkable range of her fiction reaches from the Mexican landscape to the interior monologue of her character Granny Weatherall. Her focus on independent women in her short stories established Porter as one of the major figures in the rising field of women's literature. Her writing on Mexico, from its crafts to the idiom and lifestyle of its people, is one of the early evocations of the country in American literature. The prizes awarded to her collected short stories, even more than the critical acclaim of Ship of Fools, denoted Porter's acceptance by both academia and the reading public of the 1960s.

Porter's papers are at the McKeldin Library of the University of Maryland and at the Beinecke at Yale. Perhaps the best biography of Porter is Joan Givner, Katherine Anne Porter: A Life (1991). Darlene Harbour Unrue edited Porter's "This Strange, Old World" and Other Book Reviews (1991), written between 1920 and 1958. See also Enrique Hank Lopez, Conversations with Katherine Anne Porter: Refugee from Indian Creek (1981) and The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter (1970), and Isabel Bayley, ed., Letters of Katherine Anne Porter (1990). Useful in assessing Porter's impact on the 1960s are Glenway Wescott, "Katherine Anne Porter: The Making of a Novel," Atlantic Monthly 209 (April 1962): 43–49, and "Katherine Anne Porter: The Art of Fiction," an interview by Barbara Thompson in the Paris Review 29 (winter–spring 1963): 87–114. Obituaries are in the Washington Post (10 Sept. 1980), New York Times (19 Sept. 1980), and Newsweek (29 Sept. 1980).

Dessa Crawford

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