Katherine Anne Porter was one of the best American short story writers. Her literary reputation rests on the stories in her
Collected Stories (1964) rather than on her best-selling novel
Ship of Fools (1962). She was born Callie Russell Porter, on 15 May 1890, in Indian Creek, Texas. Callie was the fourth of Harrison and Mary Alice Porter's five children. After Mary Alice Porter’s death, in March 1892, Harrison Porter moved the family to his mother's home in Kyle, near Austin, Texas. Until her death, in October 1901, Harrison Porter’s mother, Catharine Ann Porter, served as a substitute mother to Callie and the other Harrison children. She was such an important influence on Callie early life, that Callie adopted her name in early adulthood with only a slight spelling change.
After his mother’s death, Harrison Porter again relocated the family. They lived in several towns in Texas and Louisiana, living with relatives or renting rooms, before settling in San Antonio, Texas. There Callie and her older sister Gay attended the Thomas School, a private Christian girls' school, for a year. The training she received there in dramatic arts, singing, elocution, and dancing, allowed her to help support herself and her father by teaching these subjects in a rented room in Victoria, Texas. They never had any formal higher education.
On 20 June 1906, Callie Porter married John Henry Koontz, the son of a wealthy Catholic ranching family. In 1910, she abandoned her parents Methodist Church affiliation and was baptized into the Catholic Church. Her marriage to Koontz, first and longest of her five marriages, ended in 1915 in divorce due to Koontz’s violent behavior. In 1912, she began writing more of the poems and short stories she had been composing since childhood. Her first published poem, Texas by the Gulf of Mexico, was published that year. In 1914, she moved to Chicago hoping to find employment in motion pictures. She appeared in at least two movies for the Essanay Company, but she returned to Texas within six months. In 1915, she had her name legally changed to Katherine Anne Porter, as part of the final divorce decree. In later years, Porter had three more, brief, and childless marriages to Ernest Stock (1926), Eugene Pressly (1933–1938), and Albert Erskine (1938–1942).
In 1917-1918 Porter wrote for the
Fort Worth Critic and then for the
Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she contracted influenza and nearly died. When she left the hospital after months of treatment she was frail and completely bald. Her hair eventually grew back but it was white, and remained so for the rest of her life. After recovering, she returned to the
Rocky Mountain News and became its theater and music critic.
In October 1919 Porter moved to Greenwich Village to pursue a writing career. In 1920 she published three stories in
Everyland, a magazine for children. However, in November of that year Porter moved to Mexico to edit the English language section of
El Heraldo de Mexico and then the English language
Magazine of Mexico. Meanwhile, she also ghostwrote a memoir entitled
My Chinese Marriage. Porter left Mexico before September 1921 but returned in 1922 to write
Outline of Mexican Popular Arts and Crafts, the catalog for an exhibit of Mexican art.
In 1926, Porter married Ernest Stock and lived briefly in Connecticut, before divorcing him in 1927. In 1930, Porter married her third husband, the diplomat Eugene Pressly (1904-1979), who was thirteen years her junior. In August 1931, the couple sailed from Mexico to Europe on the German ship S. S. WERRA. The journal she kept during this journey became the basis for
Ship of Fools, the novel she published in 1962. Over the next five years, the couple lived in various European countries. Porter did much of her best work during this period.
Hacienda was published in 1934, and
Flowering Judas and Other Stories came out in 1935, adding four more stories to those of the 1930 edition. She also published
Katherine Anne Porter's French Song-Book, containing translations of 600 years of French songs. In October 1936, Porter and Pressly returned to the United States. They separated soon after and eventually divorced (1938).
In June 1937, Porter met Albert Erskine, her fourth and last husband, who was then a graduate student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, business manager for the
Southern Review, and twenty years her junior. In April 1938 she married Erskine. However, Porter and Erskine were separated within two years and divorced in 1942, when he learned her true age.
While widely recognized as a great writer by the end of the 1930s, Porter only achieved financial security and popular fame in 1962 with the publication of
Ship of Fools. It became a bestseller and was filmed by Hollywood in 1965. Her reputation was solidified by the publication of
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1965), which received the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.
Porter's health gradually deteriorated after the publication of her
Collected Stories, but she enjoyed the celebrity status she had attained. In December 1966, she announced that she would donate her papers, personal library, and other personal effects to the University of Maryland. She moved to College Park, Maryland, in 1969, in part to be closer to the university and her papers. After a series of strokes, Porter died on 18 September 1980.
Sources: "Katherine Anne Porter." [Biographical Sketch]
Author: Jonathan Dembo, 6/8/2011, 4/11/2012, 6/4/2016, 11/18/2016; revised by Dick Wolfe, 8/10/2011.
Stuart Wright. The Katherine Anne Porter Papers were collected and compiled by Stuart T. Wright. Wright was born on 30 March 1948 in Roxboro, North Carolina. He was the son of Frances Critcher Wright (1919-2010) and Wallace Lyndon Wright (1921-1965). An avid reader as a boy, Wright developed a strong interest in the American Civil War and with his father toured many of the war's battlefields searching for artifacts and studying the history of the era. At the age of 12, he won a statewide “Johnny Reb” essay contest and by the age of 15 had visited every major battlefield of the Civil War. Wright attended Roxboro High School, from which he graduated in 1966. It was during these years that he developed an interest in collecting historical books and manuscripts and began relationships with a number of local collectors and dealers.
In the fall of 1966, Wright enrolled at Wake Forest University as a pre-med, history, German and music student. Wright earned a B.A. in German and music in 1970. As a graduate student at Wake Forest University, Wright focused his studies on Southern history and literature, his ambition being to build an authoritative Southern Studies collection for the university. He received a master's degree in Southern Studies in 1973 and a second master's degree in U.S. History in 1980. Additionally Wright holds a professional degree from England in a medically related field. It was while studying there that he became interested in Thomas Wolfe, the noted North Carolina native and novelist.
Following his graduation from Wake Forest, Wright began to develop his collections more systematically, acquiring many first editions of Southern writers. In 1976 he began teaching at Reynolda House, a Wake Forest University affiliate dedicated to the arts and arts education. Wright taught classes in American music as well as human anatomy for art students. In 1978 Wright became Lecturer in Education at Wake Forest University. During his 10 years teaching at Wake Forest University, Wright authored numerous works of Civil War and North Carolina history, and dozens of articles, bibliographies, essays and reviews on Southern literature and the writers whose papers he collected. In addition, he developed a strong interest in the writings of the English poet Donald Davie and the Minnesota-born poet Richard Eberhart, whose works he also collected.
At the same time, Wright also began a career as a publisher by starting Palaemon Press in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By 1984, Palaemon Press had produced 316 titles, consisting mainly of broadsides and limited editions, of the poetry and essays of such Southern writers as A. R. Ammons, Fred Chappell, James Dickey, William Goyen, George Garrett, and Eudora Welty. He also built comprehensive collections and compiled book-length descriptive bibliographies of A.R. Ammons, Andrew Lytle, Reynolds Price, James Dickey, William Goyen, Walker Percy, Randall Jarrell, Peter Taylor, George Garrett, Richard Eberhart, and Donald Davie. As well as serving as editor of the contemporary literature section of the Bulletin of Bibliography throughout the 1980s, Wright also contributed pioneering checklists of the writings of Southern poets Henry Taylor, Charles Wright, and Robert Morgan. For Meckler Publishing he served as series editor for a number of book-length bibliographies and checklists. In recognition of these accomplishments, when he was just 32, Wright was elected to membership in New York's prestigious Grolier Club.
All of these works are represented in the Stuart Wright Collection. In his dealings with these various authors Wright made consistent efforts to acquire personal papers, letters and documents, photographs, manuscripts, drafts, proofs, and published materials to supplement his continuing activities as a purchaser of their works. In this way, Wright acquired perhaps a majority of his overall collection. Over the years a number of biographers used Wright’s collection to aid their research. For example, James A. Grimshaw, Jr. used the collection extensively for his Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922-1979 published by the University Press of Virginia, in 1981 and Craig S. Abbott did so as well for John Crowe Ransom: A Descriptive Bibliography, published by Whitston Publishing Company, Inc. in 1999. Joseph Blotner also used the Wright collection in researching Robert Penn Warren: A Biography, published by Random House in 1997.
Nevertheless, from the mid- to late 1980s, Wright began to look for a permanent home for his collection, which he felt had grown too large and yet had been too little used. Unable to find a repository willing to accept the entire collection under suitable conditions, he sold a number of individual author collections to Vanderbilt University, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Emory University. It was not until 2010 that he reached agreement to house the remaining, and largest part of his collection at East Carolina University. The Stuart Wright Collection in the East Carolina Manuscript Collection of J.Y. Joyner Library includes 22 sub-collections of the papers of Southern American writers. The related Stuart Wright Book Collection holds several thousand volumes by or about many of the same writers. Many of these volumes contain annotations, inscriptions, and insertions that reveal much about the authors in the collection and their relationships with one another. In 1998 Wright moved to England, and since 2001 he has resided in the medieval market town of Ludlow, in Shropshire.