Katherine Anne Porter Biography

Katherine Anne Porter, a distinguished American journalist, essayist, and short story writer, had a tumultuous life that shaped her unique perspective on the world. Despite a difficult childhood and an abusive first marriage, she found solace in her work as an actress in Chicago. However, her journey was not without its challenges, as she battled through a period of ill health. It was during this time that she discovered her passion for writing and began contributing to various newspapers. Her experiences in Mexico exposed her to the Leftist movement and instilled in her a skepticism towards religion. Surprisingly, towards the end of her life, she embraced Roman Catholicism. Porter’s literary career took off with the publication of her first story, ‘Maria Concepcion’, in the Century magazine. She went on to write three collections of novellas, which she preferred to call “short novels”: ‘Flowering Judas and Other Stories’, ‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider’, and ‘The Leaning Tower and Other Stories’. Her only novel, ‘Ship of Fools’, was a critical reflection of her trip to Germany and the rise of Nazism. Although her volume of writing decreased significantly afterwards, Porter’s impact was undeniable. She was honored with a Pulitzer and National Book Award for her Collected Stories, which showcased her rebellious personality and explored dark themes such as treachery, death, and evil. Despite not being a prolific writer, Porter’s works have stood the test of time and are considered classics for their ability to transcend space and time with their haunting exploration of the human condition.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 90
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Albert Russel Erskine Jr. (m. 1938–1942), Ernest Stock (m. 1926–1927), Eugene Pressley (m. 1930–1938), John Koontz (m. 1906–1915)
    • Father: Harrison Boone Porter
    • Mother: Alice Porter
  • Quotes By Katherine Anne Porter
  • Essayists
  • Died on: September 18, 1980
  • Place of death: Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
  • U.S. State: Texas
  • More Facts:
    • Education: Thomas School
    • Awards:
      • 1966 – Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Collected Stories
      • 1966 – National Book Award for The Collected Stories
      • 1967 – Gold Medal Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
      • 2006 – Porter was featured on a United States postage stamp issued May 15, 2006

Childhood & Early Life

Katherine Anne Porter, born on May 15, 1890 as Callie Russell Porter, faced early hardships in her life. Her mother, Mary Alice, passed away when she was just 2 years old, and her father, Harrison Boone Porter, left his four children with their paternal grandmother in Kyle, Texas. Unfortunately, Callie’s grandmother also passed away when she was eleven, leaving the children to be raised by relatives. Callie received her education in free schools in Texas and Louisiana, but was unable to continue her studies beyond grammar school.

Marriage and Early Career

In 1906, Callie married John Henry Koontz, a member of a wealthy family. However, the marriage was unhappy, as she suffered from violence at the hands of her husband. The marriage ended in divorce nine years later. To satisfy the divorce order, Callie changed her name to Katherine Anne Porter.

In 1915, Katherine fled to Chicago and began working as an extra in movies. She later returned to Texas and continued her writing career. During this time, she was wrongly diagnosed with tuberculosis, when she actually had bronchitis. She also contracted the flu, which left her weak. Despite these challenges, she wrote for various publications, including ‘The Critic’ and ‘The Rocky Mountain News’.

Move to New York and Literary Success

In 1919, Katherine moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. There, she supported herself by ghostwriting and writing children’s stories. She also worked for a motion picture company as a publicity person. In 1920, she worked for a magazine in Mexico, where she initially admired the Mexican Leftist movement but later became disenchanted. Her views on religion also changed during this time.

Throughout the next decade, Katherine published numerous short stories, gaining critical acclaim. Her first published story, ‘Maria Concepcion’, appeared in ‘The Century Magazine’. In 1930, she published her first book, ‘Flowering Judas and Other Stories’, which achieved moderate success. In 1939, she published ‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider’, a collection of three short novels that reflected her struggles during the influenza epidemic. In 1944, she published ‘The Leaning Tower and Other Stories’, which consisted of five short novels.

Later Life and Legacy

Although Katherine’s short stories brought her critical acclaim, she was not prolific or commercially successful. She relied on grants and loans to support herself and also lectured at various universities. Between 1948 and 1950, some of her works were adapted into radio dramas. She also commented on the literary works of Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf on radio and television.

In 1977, Katherine wrote an account called ‘The Never-Ending Wrong’ about the trial and execution of the Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. She defended the two accused individuals. Her novel ‘Ship of Fools’ (1962), based on her ocean cruise to Germany, received critical praise for its allegorical and metaphorical elements. In 1965, she published ‘The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter’, which won two major awards.

Katherine Anne Porter passed away on September 18, 1980 at the age of 90. She was married four times and faced many personal challenges, including miscarriages, a stillbirth, and an abortion. Despite these difficulties, she left a lasting legacy in the literary world. In 2006, she was even featured on a United States postage stamp.

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