Katherine Anne Porter: Biography

Two Pictures of Porter

The Life of Katherine Anne Porter

by Julia Anglin 

           Dismayed that her family could be so ordinary, Katherine Anne Porter became obsessed with unearthing people of recognition in her family tree, even if she dug up some false stories.  She claimed Daniel Boone as her Great Uncle (Givner 26).  In reality, this Texan girl sought to lead an interesting life, right from the start.  Unable to remember her first two years of life, Porter depended on stories from others about their cold, cramped, two-room long cabin and blamed the depression that plagued her throughout adulthood on repressed childhood memories (Givner 43).  Although Porter’s entire life played a part in molding her into a significant writer and a unique woman, her stay in Mexico, the return to the United States where she met her true love, and her final years as she reflected on all the choices that established her position in life serve as a rough timeline of landmark events.

          Always wanting to explore new worlds and stretch the constructs of her mind, Porter’s time in Mexico provided an opportunity to experience worlds outside of the United States and gain an appreciation for other cultures.  “The place excited her not only for its present beauties but for its past memories” (Givner 224).  Porter strongly believed that the past affects a person’s present situation so she incorporated this theme of a haunting past into many of her short story writings.  She worked as a journalist for the Magazine of Mexico and witnessed citizens fighting for a Revolution during the 1920s.  The irony of major religious denominations and capitalists fighting for land and oil interests struck her as something that should not be allowed to continue without some mocking remarks.  Some of Porter’s works, “The Mexican Trinity” and “Where Presidents have no Friends” are known for their political commentary (Katherine 6).  Many of her literary works stemmed from her interactions and experiences in Mexico City, although many distractions, like people, cooking, and gardening, often took away from her writing time (Katherine 27). 

           After returning to the United States, her love affair with Charles Shannon became her occupation and filled her with an unprecedented passion.  They were both house guests at the same residence during World War II.  Inspiration flowed through her veins as she spent hour upon hour with Shannon until, suddenly, some news left her stunned.  Shannon was a married man.  The affair continued for some time after this, but numerous fights raged between them.  When they broke up, she burned all their love letters (Givner 341).  However, she admitted “that she had been in love as she never was before and had been loved as never before and that it had somehow loosened her hold on the material world” (Givner 344).  The love affair may not have ended happily but it opened her eyes to another state of mind, a natural high, possible in life.  Since many of Porter’s works are slightly autobiographical, her experiences with fleeting, forbidden love are also experienced by her characters.

           Fearing the monotony of old age, Porter became proactive and produced a number of literary works until the very end.  At the age of seventy-six, she earned an honorary doctorate at the University of Michigan (Katherine 33).  She continued to teach English courses to students at Randolph Macon College and was so well-received that she became an important guest speaker.  During her last few years, she sought the promise of life after death from the Catholic Church and attended mass regularly (Givner 508).  Her fascination with rituals, rosaries, the poetic nature of prayers, and the act of confessing can be traced to all of her stories that touch on religion.

          Readers may gain a deeper understanding of the events in Porter’s short-stories after studying her personal life. Writers often expand on their own memories or incorporate silent hopes and desires into their fictitious characters.  A story can develop from a foundation of truth.  Porter wrote from her early adulthood to the very end of her years, using insight from her own life as a framework for her writing.  Her life progression can easily be divided into her time in Mexico, her return to the United States as a middle-aged woman, and her continued successes well into her seniority. Porter’s last desire on her final birthday was to be read and remembered; she got her wish.

Works Cited
Givner, Joan. Katherine Anne Porter: A Life. Revised ed. AthensGeorgia : University of
      Georgia Press, 1991.

Katherine Anne Porter At One Hundred: New Perspectives. Exhibition. College Park: Universityof Maryland, 1991.

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Last updated 23 April 2003