- Katherine Anne Porter
Katherine Anne Porter (
15 May 1890– 18 September 1980) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short storywriter, novelist, and political activist. She is known for her penetrating insight; her works deal with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil.
Callie Russel Porter, born in
Indian Creek, Texas, was the fourth of five children of Harrison Boone Porter and Alice (Jones) Porter. Her family tree can be traced back to American frontiersman Daniel Boone, a heritage of which she was proud.
In 1892, when Porter was two years old, Porter's mother died two months after giving birth to her last child. Porter's father took his four surviving children (an older brother had died in infancy) to live with his mother, Catherine Ann Porter, in
Kyle, Texas. The depth of her grandmother's influence can be inferred from Porter's later adoption of her name. Her grandmother died while taking 11 year-old Callie to visit relatives in Marfa, Texas.
After her grandmother's death, the family lived in several towns in Texas and
Louisiana, staying with relatives or living in rented rooms. She was enrolled in free schools wherever the family was living, and for a year in 1904 she attended the Thomas School, a private Methodistschool in San Antonio, Texas. This was her only formal education beyond grammar school.
In 1906, at age 16, Callie left home and married John Henry Koontz, the son of a wealthy Texas ranching family, and subsequently Callie converted to John Koontz's religion,
Roman Catholicism. John Henry Koontz was physically abusive to Callie; once while drunk, he threw her down the stairs, breaking her ankle. On another drunken occasion, he beat her to unconsciousness with a hairbrush.
In 1914 she escaped to Chicago, where she worked briefly as an extra in movies. She then returned to Texas and worked the small town circuit as an actress and singer, divorcing Koontz in 1915. As part of her divorce decree, she asked that her name be changed to Katherine Anne Porter.
Also in 1915, she was diagnosed with
tuberculosisand spent the following two years in sanatoriums, where she decided to become a writer. It was discovered during that time, however, that she had bronchitis, not TB. In 1917, she began writing for the Fort Worth"Critic", critiquing dramas, and writing society gossip. In 1918, she wrote for the "Rocky Mountain News" in Denver, Colorado. In the same year, Katherine almost died in Denver during the influenza pandemic(the Spanish flu). When she was discharged from the hospital months later, she was frail and completely bald. When her hair finally grew back, it was white, and remained that color for the rest of her life. Her experiences during treatment provided the background for her short novel " Pale Horse, Pale Rider".
In 1919, she moved to
Greenwich Villagein New York Cityand made her living ghost writing, writing children's stories and doing publicity work for a motion picture company. The year in New York Cityhad a politically radicalizing effect on her, and in 1920, she went to work for a magazine publisher in Mexico, where she became acquainted with members of the Mexican leftist movement, including Diego Rivera.
Eventually, however, she became disillusioned with the revolutionary movement and its leaders. During this period, she also became intensely critical of religion and remained so until the last decade of her life when she again embraced the
Roman Catholic Church.
Between 1920 and 1930, she traveled back and forth between Mexico and New York City and began publishing short stories and essays. In 1930, she published her first short story collection, "
Flowering Judas and Other Stories". An expanded edition of this collection was published in 1935 and received such critical acclaim that it alone virtually assured her place in American literature.
In 1926, she married Ernest Stock and lived briefly in
Connecticutbefore divorcing him in 1927. Some suggest that Porter suffered several miscarriages, at least one stillbirthbetween 1910 and 1926, and an abortion, and after contracting gonorrheafrom Stock, that she had a hysterectomyin 1927, ending her hopes of ever having a child. Yet, Porter's letters to her lovers suggest that she still intimated her menstruation after this supposed hysterectomy in 1927. As she once confided to a friend, "I have lost children in all the ways one can."
During the 1930s, she spent several years in
Europeduring which she continued to publish short stories. In 1930, she married Eugene Pressley, a writer 13 years her junior. In 1938, upon returning from Europe, she divorced Pressley and married Albert Russel Erskine, Jr., a graduate student who was 20 years younger. He reportedly divorced her (in 1942) after discovering her real age. She never remarried.
Between 1948 and 1958, Porter taught at
Stanford University, the University of Michiganand the University of Texas, where her unconventional manner of teaching made her popular with students. In 1962, she published her only novel, "Ship of Fools", which was the best-selling novel in America for that year; its success finally gave her financial security (she reportedly sold the film rights for $400,000).
Despite Porter's claim that after the publication of "Ship of Fools " she would not win any more prizes in America, in 1966 she was awarded the
Pulitzer Prizeand the National Book Awardfor " The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter", and that year was also appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1977, Porter published "
The Never-Ending Wrong", an account of the notorious trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, which she had protested fifty years earlier.
She died in Silver Spring,
Marylandon September 18, 1980, at the age of 90, and was buried next to her mother in the Indian Creek Cemetery in Texas.
Awards and honors
*1966 — Pulitzer Prize for "The Collected Stories" (1965)
National Book Awardfor "The Collected Stories" (1965)
Gold Medal Award for Fiction( American Academy of Arts and Letters)
*Three nominations for the
Nobel Prizein Literature
*2006 — Porter was featured on a
United States postage stampissued 15 May 2006. She was the 22nd person featured in the "Literary Arts" commemorative stamp series.cite press release
title=Katherine Anne Porter Stamp Sails Into Post Offices |publisher=United States Postal Service |date=2006-05-15
quote=Acclaimed writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Anne Porter was honored today by the U.S. Postal Service with the issuance of a commemorative postage stamp. ] [cite journal
author=ed. William J. Gicker |year=2006 |title=Katherine Anne Porter 39¢ |format=print |journal=USA Philatelic |volume=11 |issue=3
pages=13 |id= |url= |accessdate=2008-07-10 ]
*"Collected Stories and Other Writings" appeared in the
Library of Americaseries in 2008.
*"Maria Concepcion", 1922
*"The Martyr", 1923
*"Virgin Violeta", 1924
*"The Jilting of Granny Weatherall", 1930 (American film, 1980)
*"The Cracked-Looking-Glass", 1932
*"The Grave", 1934
*"The Downward Path to Wisdom", 1939
*"The Leaning Tower", 1941
*"The Source", 1944
*"The Journey", 1944
*"The Witness", 1944
*"The Circus", 1944 (American film, 1990)
*"The Last Leaf", 1944
*"A Day's Work", 1944
*"The Old Order", 1958
*"The Fig Tree", 1960 (American film, 1987)
*"A Christmas Story", 1967
hort story collections
*"Flowering Judas and Other Stories", 1930
*"The Leaning Tower and Other Stories", 1944
*"The Old Order: Stories of the South", 1955
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter", 1965
[The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965]
*"Old Mortality", 1937
Noon Wine", 1937 (American TV, 1966; American TV, 1985)
Pale Horse, Pale Rider", 1939 (British TV, 1964)
*"Ship of Fools", 1962
*"The Necessary Enemy", 1948
*"The Future is Now", 1950
*"The Days Before", 1952
*"The Never-Ending Wrong", 1977
*"The Charmed Life", 1942
* [http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/kaporter.htm Brief biography at Kirjasto (Pegasos)]
* [http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap7/porter.html Brief biography at "Perspectives in American Literature"]
* [http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/porter_k.html Katherine Anne Porter at "American Masters" (PBS)]
* [http://www.famoustexans.com/katherineanneporter.htm Brief biography at "Famous Texans"]
* [http://www.millikin.edu/aci/crow/chronology/porterbio.html Katherine Anne Porter Timeline]
* [http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=3608 Biography of Katherine Anne Porter at "The Literary Encyclopedia"] (limited access)
* [http://shop.usps.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10152&storeId=10001&productId=22501&langId=-1&parent_category_rn=13401 US postage stamp at USPS]
* [http://www.katherineanneporteronline.com A Tribute Site to Porter's Life, Work, & Legacy (includes an active literary discussion forum)]
* [http://www.pprize.com/BookDetail.php?bk=48 Photos of the first edition of Porter's Pulitzer Prize winning book]
* [http://www.english.txstate.edu/kap Official site of Porter's childhood home in Kyle, TX]
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