In This Article Katherine Anne Porter

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Correspondence
  • The South in Porter’s Fiction
  • Women in Porter’s Works
  • The Mexican Experience
  • Porter and Other Writers

American Literature Katherine Anne Porter
by
Darlene Harbour Unrue
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0081

Introduction

Katherine Anne Porter (b. 1890–d. 1980), christened Callie Russell Porter, was born in Indian Creek, Texas, and spent her formative years in Kyle, Texas, with her paternal grandmother, Catharine Ann Skaggs Porter. After the death of her grandmother in 1901, Callie spent a few months at a convent school in New Orleans and a year at the private Thomas School in San Antonio, where she expanded her reading and began her serious writing. At age fourteen she informally changed her name to Katherine Porter, and at age sixteen she married John Henry Koontz, converting to Roman Catholicism and continuing to read voraciously and write poems and stories. By the time she divorced Koontz in 1915 (legally changing her name from Katherine Koontz to Katherine Porter), she had only two negligible publications. During the next four years, she married and divorced a second and third time, spent months in tuberculosis sanatoria, began to call herself Katherine Anne Porter, nearly died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, launched a journalistic apprenticeship, and in 1919 moved to Greenwich Village. In 1920, however, she was drawn to Mexico, where her mature creative force was loosed, and she began to publish the stories that would make her fame with their appearance in 1930 as the limited edition of six stories titled Flowering Judas. In the 1930s through the 1950s, Porter continued to publish critically acclaimed short novels and short stories as well as nonfiction, important collections appearing as Flowering Judas and Other Stories (1935), Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels (1939), The Leaning Tower and Other Stories (1944), and The Days Before (1952); worked on her evolving long novel, Ship of Fools (1962); married and divorced two final times; received numerous awards and honorary degrees; and found financial support in fellowships, speaking engagements, a stint in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, academic appointments, and residencies at the artist colony Yaddo. With the publication of Ship of Fools Porter became wealthy, but her creative vein was exhausted. During the remainder of her life she published only works she had written earlier, most notably The Collected Stories (1965), which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter (1970), and The Never-Ending Wrong (1977), her memoir about the Sacco-Vanzetti protests of 1927. By the time she died in 1980 she had been recognized as one of the important voices in American modernism.

General Overviews

Despite considerable attention given to Porter and her individual works over the years, a comprehensive overview that equally combines biography and criticism is not yet available. While full biographies such as Givner 1991 and Unrue 2005 (both cited under Biographies) include commentary on Porter’s works, critical commentary is subordinated to the story of her life. Substantial overviews such as DeMouy 1983, Brinkmeyer 1993, and Titus 2005 provide valuable thematic overviews but with biographical detail selected to support the thesis of the individual book. Structured on specific series formats, Hardy 1973, Hendrick and Hendrick 1988, and Unrue 1988 provide comparable, brief introductions to Porter and her work. Although all three are out of print, at least one should be available in most college and university libraries and many public libraries. Annotated entries in Hilt and Alvarez 1990 (cited under Bibliographies), sorted by year within general categories, offer a quantification and assessment of Porter studies through 1988, after which the Newsletter of the Katherine Anne Porter Society (cited under Bibliographies) provides summaries and evaluations of each year’s work on Porter through 2008. Auchincloss 1965, West 1974, and Elliott 1988 are useful for viewing Porter within large literary movements. The catalogued and indexed Papers of Katherine Anne Porter (cited under Correspondence) at the University of Maryland provide a wealth of primary materials.

  • Auchincloss, Louis. “Katherine Anne Porter.” In Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of Nine American Women Novelists. By Louis Auchincloss, 136–151. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1965.

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    An admiring overview of Porter’s work regarded in a larger context; focuses especially on the Miranda cycle and Ship of Fools; calls Porter “the American Flaubert” (p. 136).

  • Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. Katherine Anne Porter’s Artistic Development: Primitivism, Traditionalism, and Totalitarianism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.

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    An analysis of Porter’s fiction in the context of her life at points of “upheavals” to which the author traces changes in her artistic vision; a series of provocative conclusions with which some Porter scholars will disagree, but the work overall is valuable for the focus on the evolution of Porter’s subjects and techniques.

  • DeMouy, Jane Krause. Katherine Anne Porter’s Women: The Eye of Her Fiction. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

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    A perceptive analysis of Porter’s canon that identifies her “territory” as “psychological and mythic” rather than as the geographical regions employed by most Porter critics. See also Women in Porter’s Fiction.

  • Elliott, Emory, Martha Banta, Terence Martin, David Minter, Marjorie Perloff, and Daniel B. Shea, eds. Columbia Literary History of the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

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    Includes Porter in sections titled “Literary Scenes and Literary Movements” (pp. 740–745), “Regionalism: A Diminished Thing,” (pp. 781–783), “Women Writers between the Wars” (pp. 822, 834, 851), and “The Diversity of American Fiction” (pp. 843, 871). Provides an important overview of Porter in the larger context of American literature.

  • Hardy, John Edward. Katherine Anne Porter. New York: Ungar, 1973.

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    A cogent interpretation of Porter’s stories according to their primary subjects—family, evil, corruption, marriage, racial interaction, idealism, and alienation; addresses Porter’s use of caricature and allegory; a good introduction to Porter’s canon but may not be available in all libraries.

  • Hendrick, Willene, and George Hendrick. Katherine Anne Porter. Twayne’s United States Authors Series 90. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

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    An excellent introduction to Katherine Anne Porter for students, scholars, and general readers. Supersedes George Hendrick’s Katherine Anne Porter (New York: Twayne, 1965) by reviewing Porter’s entire body of work and incorporating biographical data revealed since 1980.

  • Titus, Mary. The Ambivalent Art of Katherine Anne Porter. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2005.

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    A tracing through Porter’s life and canon of her changing and conflicting attitudes toward womanhood, sexuality, motherhood, and marriage; complements DeMouy 1983 and fills a previous gap in Porter studies (see also Women in Porter’s Fiction).

  • Unrue, Darlene Harbour. Understanding Katherine Anne Porter. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

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    Analysis of Porter’s work, both fiction and nonfiction, as representative of two segments of her life, her first twenty-eight years in her native region and the remainder of her life in the wider world; intended as a guide or companion for students as well as nonacademic readers.

  • West, Ray B. “Katherine Anne Porter.” In American Writers. Vol. 3, Archibald MacLeish to George Santayana. Edited by Leonard Unger, 433–455. New York: Scribner’s, 1974.

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    Important for its placement of Porter in the vanguard of the twentieth-century revival in American letters.

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