Home · Stage/Screen · Music · Sports · Politics · Military · Literature · Crime · Business · Art · Journalism

Famous Texans Katherine Anne Porter

Nationally acclaimed writer Callie Russell Porter was born in Indian Creek, Texas, on May 15, 1890. Known by her penname Katherine Ann Porter, she died in a College Park, Maryland nursing home on September 18, 1980. She was one of five children of Harrison Boone and Mary Alice (Jones) Porter. When Mary died in 1892, Harrison's mother, Catherine Anne Porter took care of her grandchildren in her home in Kyle until her death in 1901.

Living in a rented room in Victoria, Katherine supported her father and herself by teaching dramatic arts, singing, elocution, and dance, all of which she learned at the Thomas School in San Antonio.

Katherine was first married in June 1906 to John Henry Koontz of Inez, Texas. They divorced in 1915. She would marry three more times but remain childless.

In 1918, Porter went to work for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she nearly died in the great influenza epidemic of that year. Finding success as a journalist, she moved to New York in 1919. She traveled between there and Mexico City during the 1920s, working as a journalist, publicist for a film company, and ghostwriter for the book, My Chinese Marriage, published in 1921. Three children's stories she wrote were published in the magazine, Everyland. She also wrote articles about Mexico during four visits there from 1920 to 1931. From 1933 to 1936, she lived in Berlin, Basel, and Paris on a Guggenheim fellowship. In 1939, Porter received national acclaim for her book Pale Horse, Pale Rider, for which she was nominated for the first award given by the Texas Institute of Letters. The medal was awarded, however, to J. Frank Dobie for Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver.

Following her stay in Europe, Porter returned to the United States and lived in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, New York, New Orleans, Houston, and Baton Rouge, while writing such important works of short fiction as Noon Wine, "Old Mortality," and "The Grave." All of these stories were set in Central Texas. She was settled in Saratoga Springs, New York by 1944, when she published The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. In 1945, she did some screenwriting in Hollywood, and began work on her novel, Ship of Fools.

From 1948 to 1958, Porter taught at Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Liège, Belgium, Washington and Lee University, and the University of Texas. She moved to Washington D.C. in 1959 to finish Ship of Fools. It was completed in Boston in 1961, and published on April 1, 1962. The best-selling novel made her famous and financially secure.

The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter was published in 1965. The book won the Gold Medal for Fiction awarded by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award. In 1966, Porter was appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Porter finally settled in College Park, Maryland. She died in 1980 after several strokes, and was buried beside her mother's grave in the Indian Creek Cemetery at Indian Creek. A Texas historical marker was erected in her honor at Indian Creek Cemetery in Brown County in 1990 and another in Kyle in 1991.

She donated her papers to the University of Maryland, which had housed her library and other belongings since 1968 in a library named for her. Had the University of Texas named a library for her instead, it would now house her works as she had originally hoped.  In late August 1999, it was announced that the house at 508 W. Center Street in Kyle, where Porter was raised, would be renovated and operated as writers center by Southwest Texas State University. The renovation was made possible by a donation of $600,000 from Curt Engelhorn, the son and nephew of Porter's childhood playmates Anita and Erna Schlemer.

Bibliography: Anne Morris, "$600,000 donated to center for writers," Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 1, 1999, pp. B1, B5. Joan Givner, "PORTER, KATHERINE ANN." The Handbook of Texas Online. <http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/view/>