Monday, May 15, 2017

Katherine Ann Porter: "I Was Always Restless, Always A Roving Spirit."

Katherine Anne Porter, an American writer, journalist and activist, was born on this day in 1890 in the west-central Texas town of Indian Creek. She led an often troubled yet exciting and eccentric life. By the age of forty she was an acclaimed and widely read author but it took another thirty years and the publication of her novel, Ship of Fools (1962), before she found financial security in her craft. 

She moved to Washington, D.C., in 1959 to finish the novel and while there developed an association with the University of Maryland in nearby College Park. In 1966 her great success with the novel as well as her receipt of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her Collected Stories published in 1965 moved the university to award Porter an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. At the same time she announced her desire to donate a lifetime of treasured personal possessions and papers to the school to be housed in the Katherine Anne Porter Room, at that time located in McKeldin Library. Porter eventually moved the few miles from her Washington home to College Park where she could be even closer to her collection and the university's resources. 

Readers interested in Porter as a writer will enjoy this 1963 Paris Review interview conducted as part of their Art of Fiction series.

For a biographical sketch illustrating her place in American literary history go here.

On a personal note: Back in 1968 I spent about two weeks doing research in special collections on the top floor of McKeldin Library at Maryland. At the elevator and in the hallways I kept meeting this small, friendly, elderly, white-haired woman with a jovial smile that invited conversation. She seemed far too helpful to be a typical university librarian. Years later I read how much Porter loved the academic setting and interacting with students, learning about them, their studies, and their plans for the future. She was, in fact, a near constant visitor to her room on the library's fifth floor. It wasn't long before the realization hit that my "little old librarian" was none other than Katherine Anne Porter. Oh to have those two weeks back. This time I'd ask the questions.

There's an interesting back story to my discovery of Porter. It involves the Mexican Leftists of the 1920's, film making, fractal theory, systems of creative design, and the study of pandemics. In other words, it is a story best told over pitchers of craft beer enjoyed with live jazz, overstuffed club chairs, and soft light. Perhaps pure chance will give rise to the opportunity. Porter would like that.


Photos and Illustrations:

Title quotation, "Katherine Anne Porter, The Art of Fiction No. 29, Paris Review
Katherine Anne Porter,

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