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Acquisition: Purchased by the Southwestern Writers Collection, 1998.
Access: Direct inquiries to the Archivist, Southwestern Writers Collection, Albert B. Alkek Library, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, Texas 78666-4604. (512) 245-2313.
Processed by: Mandy York Oates, 1998; inventory updated by Alan Schaefer, 2010.
Notes to researchers: The Wittliff Collections also houses the Paul Porter Collection of Katherine Anne Porter. Texas State University runs the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center
Katherine Anne Porter, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author, was born Callie Russell Porter in Indian Creek, Texas, in 1890. She was one of five children. Her mother, Mary Alice Jones Porter, died during childbirth in 1892, leaving the Porter children to be raised by their father, Harrison Boone Porter. Mr. Porter took the children to Kyle, Texas, in his native Hays County, to live with him and his mother, Catherine Anne Skaggs Porter. The young Ms. Porter attended Kyle public schools. The family was very poor, but her grandmother proved to be a very strong and resourceful woman, making a deep impression on Ms. Porter. In 1901, when Ms. Porter was eleven years old, her grandmother died. Not long afterwards, in 1904, the family moved to San Antonio, where Ms. Porter attended the Thomas School. She studied acting at this time, and performed in several summer stock productions.
In 1906, at sixteen, Porter married John Henry Koontz of Inez, Texas. Mr. Koontz' family was Roman Catholic, and Ms. Porter converted to that faith in 1908. The marriage did not last. Ms. Porter left Mr. Koontz and Texas in 1914, heading north to Chicago to pursue her interests of writing and acting. Apparently it was around this time that she took her grandmother's name, Katherine Anne. The divorce from Mr. Koontz became final in 1915, the same year in which she became very ill with tuberculosis. She returned to Texas, recovered from her illness, and in 1917, worked for the Fort Worth Critic , covering theatrical and social events. Soon afterwards, in 1918, Ms. Porter moved to Denver, Colorado, not to return to Texas for close to fifteen years. In Denver, she reviewed books and theatrical performances for the Rocky Mountain News. During this period she became nearly fatally ill with an influenza which was sweeping the nation. This experience with grave illness served as the background for her short novel, Pale Horse, Pale Rider.
During 1919-1920, she worked in New York City as publicist for a motion picture company, wrote stories for the children's magazine Everyland, and met several Mexican artists who encouraged her to write journalistic works on Mexico. She traveled to Mexico for the first time in 1920, during the time of the Obregon Revolution, and she made many more trips to Mexico during the 1920s. Her first published short story, "Maria Concepcion", appeared in 1922, and was soon followed by other short stories and essays, poetry and book reviews. She was married briefly to Ernest Stock, an English World War I pilot, from 1925-1926. In 1927, she became very interested in the Sacco and Vanzeti case in Mexico, but she would not publish the story of this experience until 1977, in "The Never-Ending Wrong".
"Flowering Judas", one of her most well known short stories, was published in 1930. She was living in Mexico at this time, and met Eugene Pressly, whom she married in Paris in 1933. Around this time, she returned to Texas for a family visit. She also traveled to Paris and Germany during the turbulent 1930s. In 1936, she moved back to America and finished "Noon Wine" and "Old Mortality", and began work on "Pale Horse, Pale Rider". The next year, she and Mr. Pressly separated. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Porter went to New Orleans and became involved with Albert Erskine of The Southern Review. She and Mr. Erskine were married in April, 1938.
In 1939, J. Frank Dobie's Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver and Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider were both nominated for fiction awards by the Texas Institute of Letters. Dobie won the prize, leaving Ms. Porter feeling insulted and bitter. (Porter was later awarded the Texas Institute of Letters fiction prize for her 1962 novel, Ship of Fools.) In 1940, Porter and Erskine separated, and Ms. Porter moved to Saratoga Springs, New York, to continue her writing, beginning what would become Ship of Fools. In 1945, she began taking work as a Hollywood scriptwriter, and in 1948 began teaching at various universities including Stanford, the University of Michigan, Washington and Lee, and the University of Liege.
In 1958, rumors circulated to the effect that Harry Ransom, of the University of Texas at Austin's Humanities Research Center, was planning to name a building or at least a room for her at the University. Ms. Porter was very enthusiastic about these reported plans, and accepted an invitation to visit the University. She even considered moving to the area, but the agreement with UT fell apart. Ms Porter was once again disappointed in Texas.
In 1959, Ms. Porter, supported by Ford Foundation grant, moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where she continued to work on Ship of Fools, which was published in 1962. The novel was a great popular success and was made into a motion picture.
In 1965, she published The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, which won a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She also received honorary doctorates from many universities, and was very much in demand for lectures and teaching positions. In 1966, she received an honorary degree from the University of Maryland at College Park, and in that same year she made the decision to donate her personal papers and library to UMCP. The university named a room for Ms. Porter, which was opened on May 15, 1968.
In the Spring of 1976, Ms. Porter was again given an opportunity to return to Texas. Dr. Roger Brooks, President of Howard Payne University, in Brownwood (close to Ms. Porter's birthplace), organized a literary conference of Porter scholars. The university also presented Ms. Porter with an honorary degree. Dr. Brooks and Ms. Porter became close friends in the last years of her life, and during this visit, Dr. Brooks took Ms. Porter to visit her mother's and brother's grave in her hometown cemetery. It was at this time that Ms. Porter decided to be buried next to her mother in her home town. Later that year, she suffered a series of strokes. Her last book, "The Never Ending Wrong", an account of the Sacco and Vanzetti case in Mexico, was published in 1977.
Ms. Porter died on September 18, 1980, and she was buried alongside her mother's grave, in the Indian Creek Cemetery, near Brownwood, Texas.
Since Porter's death, her reputation as a "Texas" writer has grown even though she herself had fled the state and felt unappreciated by it. Critic A.C. Greene, writing in The Fifty Best Books on Texas, calls Pale Horse, Pale Rider "the best Texas fiction ever written." Greene also concludes that he "always thought it strange [that] she was so bitter in her disavowal of things Texan but did so many of her best stories with a Texas background." (Greene, A. C. The Fifty Best Books on Texas. Dallas : Pressworks, 1982. p.33)
Katherine Anne Porter's return to Texas has now come full circle. A historical marker has been erected in Kyle, Texas, celebrating her career. Her childhood home in Kyle is now the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, maintained and operated by Texas State University as a museum and writer-in-residence program. The 1998 Texas Writers Month poster, hung widely across the state's libraries and bookstores, featured Ms. Porter.
Scope and Contents:
This collection of correspondence, photographs, and two interviews lends an insight into Katherine Anne Porter's relationship to her home state of Texas in the last years of her life. Correspondence with Dr. Roger L. Brooks of Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, documents Porter's interest in returning to Texas and visiting her mother's gravesite. While these 10 letters and 2 telegrams hardly comprise the bulk of this collection, they shed light on Ms. Porter's relationship to Texas during this time of her life. Correspondence from other writers and literary figures to Dr. Brooks regarding Ms. Porter's work represents the status Ms. Porter enjoyed towards the end of her life nationally, internationally, as well as within Texan literary circles. The bulk of the collection is comprised of these letters from other writers to Dr. Brooks. A lengthy interview with Ms. Porter in the early 1970s also gives a unique view into her definitions of art, religion, her methods of writing, and more. Also included in this collection is Dr. Brooks' collection of Katherine Anne Porter books signed and inscribed by the author. Dr. Brooks' personal copies of periodicals in which Ms. Porter's stories and articles appeared have been cataloged separately. Dates for this collection range from 1898-1977, bulk 1972-1977.
The majority of Ms. Porter's personal papers, manuscripts, and personal library are housed at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Series I: Correspondence. (1972-1977) This series from Katherine Anne Porter to Dr. Roger L. Brooks (1972-1977) documents Ms. Porter's interest in returning to her home state near the end of her life. Letters from other writers and literary figures regarding Ms. Porter's work were solicited by Dr. Roger L. Brooks in celebration of the honorary doctorate degree given to Ms. Porter by Howard Payne University in 1976.
Series II: Interviews (1977, n.d.) This series consists of the tapes and transcripts of two interviews with Katherine Anne Porter. The longer of the two, at just under forty-five minutes, is a formal interview conducted by a Howard Payne University professor during Ms. Porter's 1976 Brownwood visit. In this interview, Ms. Porter discusses her views on the relationships between art, love, and religion, including antidotes regarding specific characters appearing in her works. The second interview, between Ms. Porter and Dr. Roger L. Brooks, took place over the phone on Sept. 22, 1977, and is several minutes long and very informal. The two discuss Dr. Brooks' impending visit to Ms. Porter to pick up a collection of Ms. Porter's papers and artifacts. Although Ms. Porter had signed and initialed a list of items to be donated to Howard Payne University, this portion of her estate was contested, and the University decided it was not its interest to enter into a debate over the matter.
Series III: Photographs (1898-1975)
Images in this series include one from Ms. Porter's childhood, and several taken by a Howard Payne University photographer during her 1976 visit to Texas, and at her 85th birthday party.
Series IV: Books Books in this collection are those collected by Dr. Roger L. Brooks, many of which have been inscribed to him by Katherine Anne Porter. Bound volumes of periodicals, such as Harper's Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, and Sewanee Review, which contain works by and interviews with Ms. Porter, have been added to the special collections book collection.
See complete inventory for the box/folder container list.