Katherine Anne Porter

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Katherine Anne Porter 1890–1980

American short story writer, novelist, essayist, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry provides an overview of Porter's career through 1995. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 3, 7, 10, 13, 15, and 27.

Katherine Anne Porter is widely recognized as one of the foremost twentieth-century American writers of short fiction. Noted for her stylistic originality and technical mastery, Porter produced a small but formidable body of work that set new standards of achievement for American fiction. Superior sensitivity, irony, and uncompromising artistry characterize her best work, especially as displayed in Flowering Judas (1930), Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), and The Leaning Tower and Other Stories (1944). Porter is distinguished for her penetrating psychological studies and unique feminine perspective, particularly regarding the complexities of love, relationships, and mortality. She won a large popular audience with the publication of her first and only novel, Ship of Fools (1962), and received crowning accolades with The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1964). Often associated with the leading figures of the Southern literary tradition, including William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty, Porter's meticulously crafted short stories influenced a generation of writers and remain consummate examples of that genre.

Biographical Information

Born Callie Russell Porter in Indian Creek, a small town in Texas, Porter was the fourth of five children. Her mother died when she was two, upon which the family moved to Hays County to stay with their grandmother until her death in 1901, then resettled in San Antonio where Porter received her education at Thomas boarding school. Her humble origins in the South, frequent dislocations, and the emotional insecurity caused by an inattentive father and the deaths of her mother and grandmother would later find expression in her writing. In 1906 Porter left school and married John Henry Koontz, a railway clerk whose Roman Catholic faith she adopted as her own. This was the first of four marriages that all ended in divorce. Seeking an outlet for her creative aspirations, Porter left Koontz in 1916 and travelled to Chicago to pursue an acting career as Katherine Anne. Shortly thereafter Porter found work on the staff of newspapers in Fort Worth and Denver until suffering a near-fatal bout with in-fluenza in 1918. This illness, and an earlier episode of tuberculosis, inspired her subsequent fascination with themes of death and rebirth. After a brief residence in New York City and ghostwriting My Chinese Marriage (1921), Porter left for Mexico in 1920 where she accumulated valuable new experiences, participated in revolutionary politics, and would remain for extended periods until 1930. She published "Maria Concepción," her first story, in Century magazine in 1922, later collected in Flowering Judas which, along with Hacienda (1934), reflect the lasting influence of her years in Mexico. In 1931 Porter visited Europe with the first of two Guggenheim fellowships where she witnessed Nazi Germany, remarried, and settled in Paris. Upon returning to the United States in 1936, Porter ended this marriage and retreated to Pennsylvania to finish Noon Wine (1937). With the publication of Pale Horse, Pale Rider and The Leaning Tower and Other Stories, Porter received widespread critical recognition. Beset by the constant distraction of university teaching, lectures, and romantic interludes, however, Porter struggled to produce new material. After twenty years of intermittent effort, she published Ship of Fools at age seventy-two, the long anticipated novel that became an instant best-seller and was made into a popular film. Four years later she won both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. Porter finished The Never-Ending Wrong (1977), an account of the Sacco-Vanzetti affair, three years before her death in...

(The entire section is 48,107 words.)