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
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