Katherine Anne Porter

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Katherine Anne Porter
Katherine Anne Porter.jpg
Porter in 1930
Callie Russell Porter

(1890-05-15)May 15, 1890
DiedSeptember 18, 1980(1980-09-18) (aged 90)
Resting placeIndian Creek Cemetery, Texas, U.S.
OccupationJournalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist
Years active1920–1977
Spouse(s)John Henry Koontz (1906-1915) (divorced)
Ernest Stock (1926-1927) (divorced)
Eugene Pressly (1930-1938) (divorced)
Albert Russel Erskine, Jr. (1938-1942) (divorced)
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1965)
National Book Award (1965)

Katherine Anne Porter (May 15, 1890 – September 18, 1980) was an American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. Her 1962 novel Ship of Fools was the best-selling novel in America that year, but her short stories received much more critical acclaim.

Ship of Fools is a 1962 novel by Katherine Anne Porter, telling the tale of a group of disparate characters sailing from Mexico to Europe aboard a German passenger ship. The large cast of characters includes Germans, a Swiss family, Mexicans, Americans, Spaniards, a group of Cuban medical students, and a Swede. In steerage, there are 876 Spanish workers being returned from Cuba. It is an allegory tracing the rise of Nazism and looks metaphorically at the progress of the world on its "voyage to eternity".

Short story Chinese Mirja work of literature, usually written in narrative prose

A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a "single effect" or mood, however there are many exceptions to this.



Katherine Anne Porter was born in Indian Creek, Texas as Callie Russel Porter to 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 (William Sydney Porter), her father's second cousin. [1]

Indian Creek is an unincorporated community in southern Brown County in west central Texas.

Daniel Boone American settler

Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, explorer, woodsman, and frontiersman, whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky. It was still considered part of Virginia but was on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains from most European-American settlements. As a young adult, Boone supplemented his farm income by hunting and trapping game, and selling their pelts in the fur market. Through this occupational interest, Boone first learned the easy routes to the area. Despite some resistance from American Indian tribes such as the Shawnee, in 1775, Boone blazed his Wilderness Road from North Carolina and Tennessee through Cumberland Gap in the Cumberland Mountains into Kentucky. There, he founded the village of Boonesborough, Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachians. Before the end of the 18th century, more than 200,000 Americans migrated to Kentucky/Virginia by following the route marked by Boone.

O. Henry American short story writer

William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name O. Henry, was an American short story writer. His stories are known for their surprise endings.

Porter's childhood home in Kyle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Katherine anne porter house 2009.jpg
Porter's childhood home in Kyle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

In 1892, when Porter was two years old, her 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.

Kyle, Texas City in Texas, United States

Kyle is a city in Hays County, Texas, United States. The population was 28,016 in the 2010 census and estimated to be 39,060 in 2016. Kyle is one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas.

Marfa, Texas City in Texas, United States

Marfa is a city in the high desert of the Trans-Pecos in far West Texas, between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. It is the county seat of Presidio County, and its population as of the 2010 United States Census was 1,981. The city was founded in the early 1880s as a water stop; the population increased during World War II, but the growth stalled and reversed somewhat during the late 20th century. Today, Marfa is a tourist destination and a major center for minimalist art. Attractions include Building 98, the Chinati Foundation, artisan shops, historical architecture, a classic Texas town square, modern art installments, art galleries, and the Marfa lights.

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.

Louisiana State of the United States of America

Louisiana is a state in the Deep South region of the South Central United States. It is the 31st most extensive and the 25th most populous of the 50 United States. Louisiana is bordered by the state of Texas to the west, Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. A large part of its eastern boundary is demarcated by the Mississippi River. Louisiana is the only U.S. state with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are equivalent to counties. The state's capital is Baton Rouge, and its largest city is New Orleans.

San Antonio City in Texas, United States

San Antonio, officially the City of San Antonio, is the seventh-most populous city in the United States, and the second-most populous city in both Texas and the Southern United States, with more than 1.5 million residents. Founded as a Spanish mission and colonial outpost in 1718, the city became the first chartered civil settlement in present-day Texas in 1731. The area was still part of the Spanish Empire, and later of the Mexican Republic. Today it is the state's oldest municipality.

Grammar school type of school in the United Kingdom and some other countries

A grammar school is one of several different types of school in the history of education in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries, originally a school teaching Latin, but more recently an academically-oriented secondary school, differentiated in recent years from less academic secondary modern schools.

In 1906, at age sixteen, Porter left home and married John Henry Koontz in Lufkin, Texas. She subsequently converted to his religion, Roman Catholicism. [2] Koontz, the son of a wealthy Texas ranching family, was physically abusive; once while drunk, he threw her down the stairs, breaking her ankle. They divorced officially in 1915. [1]

Lufkin, Texas City in Texas, United States

Lufkin is a city in and the county seat of Angelina County in eastern Texas, United States. This city is 120 miles (190 km) northeast of Houston. Founded in 1882, the population was 35,837 at the 2017 census.

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 entertainment 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.

Divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage, is the process of terminating a marriage or marital union. Divorce usually entails the canceling or reorganizing of the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage, thus dissolving the bonds of matrimony between a married couple under the rule of law of the particular country or state. Divorce laws vary considerably around the world, but in most countries divorce requires the sanction of a court or other authority in a legal process, which may involve issues of distribution of property, child custody, alimony, child visitation / access, parenting time, child support, and division of debt. In most countries, monogamy is required by law, so divorce allows each former partner to marry another person; where polygyny is legal but polyandry is not, divorce allows the woman to marry another person.

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. [1] Her experience was reflected in her trilogy of short novels, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), for which she received the first annual gold medal for literature in 1940 from the Society of Libraries of New York University. [3]

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. 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. [4]

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 1960s novel Providence Island, Calder Willingham had the character Jim fantasize a perfect lover and he called her Maria Concepcion Diaz.) [1] 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 alleged hysterectomy. As she once confided to a friend, "I have lost children in all the ways one can." [5]

During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Porter enjoyed a prominent 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. [6]

During the 1930s, Porter spent several years in Europe during which she continued to publish short stories. In 1930, she married Eugene Pressly, a writer. In 1938, upon returning from Europe, she divorced Pressly and married Albert Russel Erskine, Jr., a graduate student. He reportedly divorced her in 1942 after discovering her real age and that she was 20 years his senior. [N 1]

Porter became an elected member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1943, and was a writer-in-residence at several colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia. [7]

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 radio series giving critical commentary on works by Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf. In the 1950s and '60s she occasionally appeared on television in 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, Mexico, 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 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 [9] and the U.S. National Book Award [10] for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter . That year she 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. In 1990, Recorded Texas Historic Landmark number 2905 was placed in Brown County, Texas, to honor the life and career of Porter. [11]

Awards and honors


Short story collections



Posthumous publications

Other publications

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  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. [8]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Johnston, Laurie. "Katherine Anne Porter Dies at 90; Won a Pulitzer for Short Stories". The New York Times, September 19, 1980. (subscription required)
  2. Unrue 2005, p. 45.
  3. Lavers, Norman. "Katherine Anne Porter." Critical Survey Of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition (2010): 1. Biography Reference Center. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
  4. Unrue 2005, pp.xv-xx (contains a Katherine Anne Porter chronology).
  5. Unrue 2005, pp. 14, 86.
  6. "Obituary: Katherine Anne Porter." Variety , September 24, 1980.
  7. Hathcock, Barrett. "Katherine Anne Porter." Katherine Anne Porter (2005): 1. Biography Reference Center. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
  8. Steinberg, Jay. "Articles: Ship of Fools." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  9. 1 2 "Fiction." The Pulitzer Prizes: Past winners & finalists by category. Retrieved: March 30, 2012.
  10. 1 2 "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.)
  11. "THC-Katherine Anne Porter". Recorded Texas Historic Landmark (Texas Historical Commission). Retrieved: February 22, 2011.
  12. "Katherine Anne Porter Stamp Sails Into Post Offices". Archived 2008-05-15 at the Wayback Machine United States Postal Service, May 15, 2006. Retrieved: July 10, 2008.
  13. Gicker, William J.. ed. "Katherine Anne Porter 39¢." USA Philatelic, Volume 11, Issue 3, 2006, p. 13.


  • Givner, Joan. Katherine Anne Porter: A Life. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1991, First edition 1982. ISBN   978-0-8203-1340-5.
  • Hardwick, Elisabeth. "What she was and what she felt like." The New York Times, November 7, 1982. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  • Nance, William L. Katherine Anne Porter and the Art of Rejection. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1963. OCLC   184906
  • Tanner, James Thomas Fontenot, PhD. The Texas Legacy of Katherine Anne Porter Texas Writers Series (Book 3). Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press, 1991. ISBN   978-0-929398-22-8.
  • Unrue, Darlene Harbour. Katherine Anne Porter Remembered. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 2010. ISBN   978-0-8173-1667-9.