Porter, Katherine Anne (1890–1980)

By: Joan Givner

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: January 15, 2014

Katherine Anne Porter (born Callie Russell Porter), writer, daughter of Harrison Boone and Mary Alice (Jones) Porter, was born in Indian Creek, Texas, in Brown County on May 15, 1890. After Mary Porter died in 1892 her mother-in-law, Catherine Anne Porter, took the four surviving (of five) children to her home in Kyle in Hays County, where she cared for them until her own death in 1901. Thereafter, the family dispersed. Katherine Anne Porter attended for a short time a small private girls' school, the Thomas School, in San Antonio. Using her training there in dramatic arts, singing, elocution, and dancing, she supported herself and her father by teaching these subjects in a rented room in Victoria. She was married in 1906, a month after her sixteenth birthday, to John Henry Koontz of Inez. Influenced by his family, she rejected the Methodism of her childhood and was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1910. Her first marriage ended in divorce in 1915. Subsequently, she had three more brief, childless marriages-to Ernest Stock (1926), Eugene Pressly (1933–38), and Albert Erskine (1938–42).

Except for a stint in Chicago in 1914, Porter lived in Texas until 1918, when she left to take a job on the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. While there she nearly died of influenza. After a successful year as a journalist she went to New York and spent the 1920s, in her words, "running back and forth between Mexico City and Greenwich Village." During this period she did what she called "hack work"-publicity work for a film company, journalism, and the ghostwriting of a book, My Chinese Marriage (1921, published under the initials M. T. F.). She also began writing short stories and published three children's stories in a magazine, Everyland. She was in Mexico for shorter periods than she liked to pretend, although her last period of residence there lasted over a year in 1930–31. During her four visits to Mexico from 1920 to 1931 she wrote articles on political and cultural aspects of the region, and the country provided the setting for some of her later writings. From Mexico she traveled to Europe on a Guggenheim fellowship and lived in Berlin and Basel and finally in Paris from 1933 to 1936.

In 1936 she returned to the United States and lived in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, New York, New Orleans, Houston, and Baton Rouge. During this period she published some of her most important short fiction, including Noon Wine, "Old Mortality," and "The Grave," all set in Central Texas. By 1940 she lived in upstate New York. She was periodically a guest at the artists' colony Yaddo, and bought a house near Saratoga Springs. In 1944 she published The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. Though her writing brought moderate financial gain, she did not manage to maintain the house by it and, in an effort to earn more, went to Hollywood in 1945 to work as a scriptwriter. She worked only brief stints at this job but settled in California for a time to work on a novel.

In 1948 she began a series of teaching positions, delighted by the idea that she who had never been a university student should be invited to teach in prominent universities. She worked at Stanford, the University of Michigan, briefly at the University of Liège, Belgium, and at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. She also presented a lecture at the University of Texas in 1958. Although Porter often lectured and read in universities, she gave up trying to support herself with full-time positions and settled in 1959 in the Washington, D.C., area in a last-ditch effort to finish her novel. Ship of Fools was finished in Boston in 1961 and triumphantly published on April 1, 1962. The book brought fame and fortune, though this time critical approval was mixed with adverse criticism. Financially secure at last, she lived in a large house in Spring Valley, near Washington, until ill health made smaller places necessary. Her last home was a spacious apartment in College Park, Maryland, where, on September 18, 1980, after a series of strokes, she died in a nursing home.

Katherine Anne Porter's physical remains were buried beside her mother's grave in the Indian Creek Cemetery at Indian Creek, near Brownwood, Texas. Her literary remains, however, were left to the University of Maryland, which had in 1968 established a Katherine Anne Porter Room to house her library, furniture, and personal memorabilia. In the 1950s she had hoped that the University of Texas would honor her by naming a library for her. In return she intended to leave all her papers to UT. But no library or room was named for her, and she looked elsewhere for a deserving recipient of her substantial literary archive. In 1939, when she was receiving national acclaim for her book Pale Horse, Pale Rider, she had been a candidate for the first award given by the recently formed Texas Institute of Letters, but the medal was awarded instead to J. Frank Dobie for Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver. Porter received numerous awards and honorary degrees. Her novel was made into a successful movie. Her works were translated into many languages. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1965) won the Gold Medal for Fiction awarded by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award. She was appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1966. Two Texas historical markers were erected in her honor: one at Indian Creek Cemetery in Brown County in 1990 and another in Kyle in 1991.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Judith Freeman Clark, Almanac of American Women in the 20th Century (New York: Prentice Hall, 1987). Jane DeMouy, Katherine Anne Porter's Women: The Eye of Her Fiction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983). Joan Givner, Katherine Anne Porter: A Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982). George Hendrick, Katherine Anne Porter (New York: Twayne, 1965). Clinton Machann and William Bedford Clark, eds., Katherine Anne Porter and Texas: An Uneasy Relationship (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1990). Katherine Anne Porter Papers, McKeldin Library, University of Maryland. Darlene Harbour Unrue, Truth and Vision in Katherine Anne Porter's Fiction (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985). Thomas F. Walsh, Katherine Anne Porter and Mexico: The Illusion of Eden (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).


  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction
  • Women
  • Journalism
  • Authors and Writers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Joan Givner, “Porter, Katherine Anne,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/porter-katherine-anne.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
January 15, 2014

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: