Charles McColl Portis was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, on December 28, 1933, the son of Samuel Palmer and Alice Waddell Portis. His father was a school superintendent, and his mother was a woman of strong literary inclinations. He grew up and went through public schools in Hamburg, Arkansas, located in the southeastern corner of the state. There the Old South plantation culture of neighboring Mississippi gradually gives way to the frontier culture which characterizes most of Arkansas. Portis graduated from high school in 1951. In 1952, he left Arkansas for the first time to join the United States Marine Corps. He served during the latter part of the Korean War and was discharged in 1955, having attained the rank of sergeant.
Portis returned to his home state and entered the University of Arkansas, where he studied journalism. He earned a B.A. in 1958. Upon graduation, he pursued a career in journalism. He had worked for the Northwest Arkansas Times and during 1958 was a reporter for the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee. The next year, he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, as a reporter on the Arkansas Gazette. In 1960, he left Arkansas again, this time to take a reporting job with the New York Herald Tribune. He remained there until 1964, eventually becoming the newspaper’s London correspondent. In that year, he quit his job and began a career as a full-time writer. He returned to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he still resides.
Portis’s four-year sojourn at the New York Herald Tribune was very successful. He became a feature writer as well as a reporter, and his feature stories were so effective that at least one of them appeared in a college...
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