Katherine Anne Porter

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At a Glance

Katherine Anne Porter did it all. She worked as a critic, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a singer, an actress, and a writer. She built an impressive literary career despite relatively humble beginnings. Having completed only grammar school, she sought out the majority of her education independently. Through numerous marriages, divorces, and other personal crises, Porter established herself as a serious author whose works celebrated the perspective of women while illuminating more general issues of humanity and relationships.

An often-quoted and outspoken figure, Porter became more conservative in her later years but never stopped challenging readers. Though she is best known for the novel Ship of Fools, it was her short story collection, The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, that won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1966.

Facts and Trivia

  • Porter, whose father’s middle name was Boone, claimed to be a descendant of historical figure Daniel Boone, yet no evidence has ever been found to support that claim.
  • Her father was also related to the writer, O. Henry.
  • Porter was born Callie Russell Porter. She changed her name in part to escape from her physically abusive first husband.
  • Rumors continue to circle about Porter’s thwarted desire to have a child. Suggestions of miscarriages, stillbirths, hysterectomies, and infertility have been put forth, but no single theory can be corroborated by Porter’s personal writings.
  • Porter’s one and only novel, Ship of Fools, was a huge success and was turned into an Oscar-nominated film in 1965.
  • Porter was not always in strong physical health, though she lived to be 90. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis, though she really had bronchitis, and spent two years in sanatoria. She also nearly died during the 1918 flu pandemic
  • Porter frequently stated that she often set out to write strictly autobiographical material, but her creative instincts for storytelling always took her down different roads.

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Biography

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: An important modernist writer, Porter was a fiercely independent and exacting artist whose life and work influenced many writers who followed her.

Early Life

During Katherine Anne Porter’s unhappy early life, she received little encouragement to become a creative writer, yet her very misery may have spurred this sensitive and strong-willed young girl to greatness. Born Callie Russell Porter in a log cabin on the Texas frontier, she lost her mother, Mary Alice Jones Porter, when she was only two and struggled through poverty and the humiliation of being a motherless child. Her father, Harrison Boone Porter, seems to have lost his will to provide for himself and his family after his wife’s death. Thus, the burden of raising Porter, her brother, and two sisters fell to her father’s mother, Catherine Anne Porter, otherwise known as Aunt Cat, who had reared nine children of her own.

Moved to her grandmother’s house in Kyle, Texas, Porter was sensitive to the crowded conditions and the fact that neighbors regarded her and her siblings as charity cases. Her biographer, Joan Givner, believes that her father’s neglect left Porter with a yearning for affection from men that eventually led to four marriages and innumerable affairs, often with men whose circumstances almost guaranteed instability. Her grandmother’s strength of character, however, was a lifelong influence, and Porter eventually adopted her name, with a slight spelling difference, perhaps in an effort to internalize that strength. In later years, when asked about her early life, Porter frequently suppressed painful details and transformed them into more palatable ones. She was furious when researchers discovered her original name. Instead of dirt-poor Callie Russell Porter, she wished to be remembered as Katherine Anne, descendant of a long line of southern aristocrats.

Aunt Cat’s death when Porter was eleven deprived her of her only source of stability. After they had lived for a time with Porter’s aunt Ellen on...

(The entire section is 6,045 words.)