Katherine Anne Porter

1890 - 1980

Descendent of Daniel Boone, legendary pioneer and explorer, Katherine Anne Porter was born in Indian Creek, Texas, but . she grew up in Texas and Louisiana. Her mother died when Katherine was two and she was raised by her paternal grandmother. Porter was educated in convent schools. At the age of sixteen she ran away and married the first of her three husbands. A few years later she left him to work as an actress. Porter contracted tuberculosis and during her recovery she decided to became a writer. Subsequently Porter earned her living as a journalist in Chicago, Illinois, and Denver.

Between the years 1918 and 1921 she became involved in revolutionary politics in Mexico, the scene of several of her stories, and where she worked as a journalist and teacher. Mexico, Porter once said, gave her back her Texas past. Her feelings toward Mexico, however, were ambivalent, and later in such works as "Xochimilco," Porter saw Mexico as an earthly Eden where hopes for a better society could be realized. In other stories, including "The Fiesta of Guadalupe," she depicts Mexico as a place of hopeless oppression for the native peoples.

In 1922 Porter published a study OUTLINE OF MEXICAN POPULAR ARTS AND CRAFTS. She travelled in the late 1920s Europe, settling in Paris during the early 1930s, and became friends with the English modernist writer Ford Madox Ford. Porter also contributed to leftist journals, such as The New Republic and The Nation. Her first published story was 'María Concepción' published in Century magazine in December 1922. The next story, 'He,' appeared in New Masses in 1927. It was followed by 'Magic' in transition and 'Rope' in the Second American Caravan in 1928. 'The Jilting of Granny Weatherall' appeared in transition in 1929 and 'Flowering Judas' in Hound and Horn in the spring of 1930. Porter's first collection of short stories was FLOWERING JUDAS. The limited edition of 600 copies appeared in 1930. The collection was enlarged in 1935.

Porter's PALE HORSE, PALE RIDER (1939) received widespread critical acclaim. It consisted of three short novels: 'Old Mortality', 'Noon Wine', a study of evil, set on a Texas farm circa 1900, and the titlepiece, which tells of a short-lived love affair between a soldier and a young Southern newspaperwoman during the influenza epidemic of World War I. The central character in the stories is Miranda, whose background is roughly parallel to Porter's - she runs away from a convent, and in the last story she is working as a reporter on a western newspaper. In THE LEARNING TOWER (1944) there are six related stories dealing with Miranda and the background of her family. 'The Old Order' gives the most complete picture of Miranda's family -the grandmother was the great-granddaughter of "Kentucky's most famous pioneer" (Daniel Boone). The unnamed narrator is Miranda.

In the 1950s Porter published two volumes essays, THE DAYS BEFORE (1952) and A DEFENSE CIRCE (1954). Her COLLECTED STORIES (1965) was awarded in 1966 the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Ship of Fools, a bitterly ironic novel, appeared when Porter was 72. The book was made into an Oscar winning film in 1966, directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Vivien Leigh. The Ship of Fools is set in 1931 aboard a German passenger ship, returning to Germany from Mexico. "The ship was none of those specialized carriers of rare goods, much less an elegant pleasure craft coming down from New York, all fresh paint and interior decoration, bringing crowds of prosperous dressed-up tourists with money in their pockets. No, the Vera was a mixed freighter and passenger ship, very steady and broad-bottomed in her style, walloping from one remote port to another, year in year out, honest, reliable and homely as a German housewife."

Mixed bag of passengers, Germans, Americans, Spaniards, Gypsies, and Mexicans represent a microcosmos of peoples, whose life are characterized by jealousy, cruelty, hatred, love and duplicity. In the first part the reader becomes acquainted with the various characters. The second part contains the torment of the passengers in steerage, their attempts to love and their struggle for detachment. In part three a bacchanalian fiesta brings out all the hidden fears and guilts. Porter explores the origin of human evil through the allegorical use of characters, who represent various national and moral types. Captain Thiele is the embodiment of Teutonic authority, one passenger is a Basque, a Christ figure, who plunges into the sea to save an aged bulldog but drowns himself.

In the 1970s Porter published COLLECTED ESSAYS AND OCCASIONAL WRITINGS (1970) and THE NEVER-ENDING WRONG (1977), an account of the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti trial and execution. Porter died in Silver Spring, Maryland on September 18, 1980.

For further reading: Katherine Anne Porter: Conversations, ed. by Joan Givner (1998); Critical Essays on Katherine Anne Porter, ed by Darlene Harbour Unrue (1997); Katherine Anne Porter by Janis P. Stout (1995); Katherine Anne Porter. Fiction As History by Lakshmi Chandra (1993); Katherine Anne Porter's Artistic Development by Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr (1993); Katherine Anne Porter and Mexico by Thomas F. Walsh (1992), The Texas Legacy of Katherine Anne Porter by James T.F. Tanner (1991); Katherine Anne Porter and Texas, ed. by Clinton MacHann, William Clark (1990); Katherine Anne Porter: Conversations, ed by Joan Givner (1987); Katherine Anne Porter: A Life by Joan Givner (1982) - FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Katherine Anne Porter

Selected works:

KATHERINE ANNE PORTER'S POETRY, 1996 (ed. by Darlene Harbour Unrue)