Katherine Anne Porter
Katherine Anne Porter (May 15, 1890– September 18, 1980), was an American author and journalist best known for her short stories and her masterwork, Ship of Fools. She spent her early years working as a teacher of drama, dance and song to help support her and her father. These misfortunes are what made Porter the amazing writer that she became, focusing on themes of death, mistrust, and depraved human behavior.
“My life has been incredible, I don’t believe a word of it.” That’s a famous quote that reflects a penchant for self-invention. She was considered somewhat flamboyant by some; inscrutable by others.
Her original name was Callie Porter, born into poverty in rural Texas. Discarding her past, she invented a history of her own making. In addition to changing her name, she placed herself within a made-up lineage of statesmen, casting herself as an aristocratic daughter of the Old South.
Love affairs, secret marriages, striving upward
Strikingly beautiful in her youth, Porter was embroiled in many passionate and turbulent love affairs. She was married twice — in both cases secretly. She tried unsuccessfully to break into film; did “hack writing” that helped her scratch out a living (and which she would rather have forgotten about); it was her writing that finally made her rich and famous.
A dramatic and full life
In her 90 years, Porter lived a life that was as dramatic as it was passionate. She saw some of the 20th century’s most turbulent events at close range,. She spent time in revolutionary Mexico in the 1920s; in Paris at the start of World War II to witness Hitler’s rise; in Hollywood in the glamorous 1940s; and in Washington, D.C. during the “Camelot” days of the Kennedy.
You might also like: Forthright Quotes by KAP
Ship of Fools
In 1962 she published Ship of Fools, which took her twenty years to write. Critical opinions were mixed, though it was the best-selling novel of her career and of that year overall. Set before the start of World War II, it follows the voyage of a group of passengers on their way from Mexico to Europe. It was made into a film that was released in 1965.
“There are enough women to do the childbearing and the childrearing. I know of none who can write my books,” proclaimed Katherine Anne Porter. “Now I am all for human life, and I am all for marriage and children and all that sort of thing, but quite often you can’t have that and do what you were supposed to do, too.” Yet Porter took twenty years to write Ship of Fools because she was “trying to get to that table, to that typewriter, away from my jobs of teaching and trooping this country and of keeping house.” Perhaps the “trooping this country” was the truth but keeping house? Highly unlikely.
Porter often took many, many years after events to write about and analyze them fully, using her own life as a base for her work. Her writing was a way to face questions that were left unanswered in her own life, giving her work a passionate, realistic, and sometimes harsh voice.
An American rags to riches story
Porter’s was a true American rags to riches story. She lived on her own terms, and rose to fame by using her steely determination, energy, and above all, her writing talent. In 1966 Porter won a Pulitzer Prize, the Gold Medal for Fiction and the National Book Award for The Collected Stories, published in 1965.
Porter died at the age of 90 in Silver Spring, Maryland on September 18, 1980. Her ashes were buried next to her mother at Indian Creek Cemetery in Texas. After her death, there were many more of her short stories and poems published posthumously.
More about Katherine Anne Porter on this site
- 6 Quick Writing Tips from KAP
- KAP at Work
- Forthright Quotes by KAP
- Dear Literary Ladies: How can I develop a distinctive writing style?
- Dear Literary Ladies: Is it possible to write well if one is a “starving artist?”
- Ship of Fools
- ‘Flowering Judas’
- The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
- The Old Order: Stories of the South
- Pale Horse, Pale Rider
- Uncollected Early Prose of Katherine Anne Porter
Autobiographies and Biographies about Katherine Anne Porter
- Katherine Anne Porter Society
- Reader discussion of Porter’s books on Goodreads
- Porter books page on Amazon
Articles, News, Etc.
Visit the Katherine Anne Porter Center and Room
- KAP Literary Center – Kyle, TX
- KAP Room – University of Maryland, College Park, MD
- KAP Collection – Princeton University Library, Princeton, NJ
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