Katherine Anne Porter

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Katherine Anne Porter
Katherine Anne Porter.jpg
Porter in 1930
Born Callie Russell Porter
(1890-05-15)May 15, 1890
Indian Creek, Texas, U.S.
Died September 18, 1980(1980-09-18) (aged 90)
Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
Occupation Journalist, Essayist, Writer, Novelist
Years active 1920–1977
Spouse(s) John Henry Koontz (1906-1915) (divorced)
Ernest Stock (1926-1927) (divorced)
Eugene Pressley (1930-1938) (divorced)
Albert Russel Erskine, Jr. (1938-1942) (divorced)

Katherine Anne Porter (May 15, 1890 – September 18, 1980) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist.[1] Her 1962 novel Ship of Fools was the best-selling novel in America that year, but her short stories received much more critical acclaim. She is known for her penetrating insight; her work deals with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil. In 1990, Recorded Texas Historic Landmark number 2905 was placed in Brown County, Texas to honor the life and career of Porter.[2]

Biography[edit]

Katherine Anne Porter, born as Callie Russell Porter in Indian Creek, Texas,[3] was the fourth of five children of Harrison Boone Porter and Mary Alice (Jones) Porter. Her family tree can be traced back to American frontiersman Daniel Boone, and the writer O. Henry (whose real name was William Sydney Porter) was her father's second cousin.[4]

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 eleven-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 Methodist school in San Antonio, Texas. This was her only formal education beyond grammar school.

In 1906, at age sixteen, Porter left home and married John Henry Koontz, in Lufkin, Texas the son of a wealthy Texas ranching family, and subsequently converted to Koontz's religion, Roman Catholicism.[5] Koontz was physically abusive; once while drunk, he threw her down the stairs, breaking her ankle. They divorced officially in 1915.[4]

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. In 1915, she asked that her name be changed to Katherine Anne Porter as part of her divorce decree.

Also in 1915, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent the following two years in sanatoria, 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 1918 flu pandemic. 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.[4] Her experiences during treatment provided the background for her long story Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

In 1919, Porter moved to Greenwich Village in New York City and made her living ghost writing, writing children's stories and doing publicity work for a motion picture company. The year in New York City had 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, Porter became disillusioned with the revolutionary movement and its leaders. But in the 1920s 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.[6]

Between 1920 and 1930, Porter traveled back and forth between Mexico and New York City and began publishing short stories and essays. Her first published story was "Maria Concepcion" in The Century Magazine. In his novel "Providence Island" Calder Willingham has the character Jim fantasize a perfect lover and he calls her Maria Concepcion Diaz.[4] 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, Porter married Ernest Stock and lived briefly in Connecticut before divorcing him in 1927. Some biographers suggest that Porter suffered several miscarriages, at least one stillbirth between 1910 and 1926, and an abortion, and after contracting gonorrhea from Stock, that she had a hysterectomy in 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."[7]

During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Porter enjoyed a high critical reputation as one of America's most distinguished writers but her limited output and equally limited sales had her living on grants and advances for most of the era.

During the 1930s, Porter spent several years in Europe during 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 told F. Armstrong Green (a brief amanuensis) that she married Hart Crane, who promptly committed suicide and that she had been married more times than anyone knew.[8] [N 1]

Between 1948 and 1958, Porter taught at Stanford University, the University of Michigan, Washington and Lee University, and the University of Texas, where her unconventional manner of teaching made her popular with students.

Three of Porter's stories were adapted into radio dramas on the program NBC University Theatre. "Noon Wine" was made into an hour drama in early 1948 and two years later "Flowering Judas" and "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" each were produced in half-hour dramas on an episode of the hour long program. Porter herself made two appearances on the series giving critical commentary on works by Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf. She also occasionally appeared on television in the 1950s and 1960s on programs discussing literature.

Porter published her only novel, Ship of Fools in 1962, based on her reminiscences of a 1931 ocean cruise she had taken from Vera Cruz to Germany. The novel's success finally gave her financial security (she reportedly sold the film rights for Ship of Fools for $500,000). Producer David O. Selznick was after the film rights but United Artists who owned the property, demanded $400,000. The novel was adapted for film by Abby Mann. Producer and director Stanley Kramer who helmed the film, featured Vivien Leigh in her final film performance.[N 2]

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 Prize[10] and the U.S. National Book Award[11] for 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 50 years earlier.

Porter died in Silver Spring, Maryland on September 18, 1980, at the age of 90, and her ashes were buried next to her mother at Indian Creek Cemetery in Texas.

Awards and honors[edit]

Works[edit]

  • Collected Stories and Other Writings appeared in the Library of America series in 2008.
  • Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter [Seymour Lawrence] 1970
  • My Chinese Marriage [publisher unknown although there is a Kessinger edition in 2010] 1902. This is a little-known ghost-written book by Katherine Anne Porter bearing author name of M.T.F. (Mae Franking).
  • A Christmas Story, [Delacorte, 1967]
  • The Days Before, Harcourt Brace, 1952
  • Katherine Anne Porter's French Song Book, Harrison of Paris, 1933

Short story collections[edit]

Novellas/Short novels[edit]

  • Old Mortality, 1937
  • Noon Wine, 1937 (American radio, 1948; American TV, 1966; American TV, 1985)
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider, 1939 (American radio, 1950; British TV, 1964)

Novel[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Brewster Ghiselin wrote a poem called "The Ring" that is an allusion to the marriage-suicide.
  2. ^ The ensemble cast of Ship of Fools (1965) included Simone Signoret, José Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Oskar Werner, Michael Dunn, Elizabeth Ashley, George Segal, José Greco and Heinz Rühmann.[9]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "Obituary: Katherine Anne Porter." Variety, September 24, 1980.
  2. ^ "THC-Katherine Anne Porter". Recorded Texas Historic Landmark (Texas Historical Commission). Retrieved: February 22, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Katherine Anne Porter Stamp Sails Into Post Offices". United States Postal Service, May 15, 2006. Retrieved: July 10, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d Johnston, Laurie. "Katherine Anne Porter Dies at 90; Won a Pulitzer for Short Stories". The New York Times, September 19, 1980.
  5. ^ Unrue 2005, p. 45.
  6. ^ Unrue 2005, pp.xv-xx (contains a Katherine Anne Porter chronology).
  7. ^ Unrue 2005, pp. 14, 86.
  8. ^ Unrue 2005, p. 260.
  9. ^ Steinberg, Jay. "Articles: Ship of Fools." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Fiction." The Pulitzer Prizes: Past winners & finalists by category. Retrieved: March 30, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "National Book Awards, 1966." National Book Foundation. Retrieved: March 30, 2012.
    (With acceptance speech by Porter and essays by Mary Gaitskill and H.L. Hix from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  12. ^ Gicker, William J.. ed. "Katherine Anne Porter 39¢." USA Philatelic, Volume 11, Issue 3, 2006, p. 13.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]