Katherine Anne Porter

Katherine Anne Porter was born in 1890 at Indian Creek, Brown County, Texas to Harrison Boone Porter and the former Mary Alice Jones, both of whom were native Texans. Although it is sometimes discussed, as far as we can determine, she is not closely related either to explorer Daniel Boone or author William Sydney Porter (perhaps better known by his pen name as O. Henry). Her mother died when she was about two years old, after which she, her father and her siblings lived with her widowed grandmother, Catherine Anne Skaggs Porter in Kyle, Hays County, Texas. Her father was a school teacher and/or a farmer. Her grandmother died when Katherine was eleven years old out in Marfa, Texas when they were on a family visit there. Afterward, Katherine moved with her family wherever they were living until she married at age fifteen. She was very bright, but did not have an extensive formal education.

She was married and divorced at various times, but was single much of her life. Her career as a writer includes working for a short time in Fort Worth, Texas for an entertainment periodical before moving to New York City. There she is thought to have begun writing short stories and articles for local periodicals. Her first book was called “Flowering Judas,” published in 1930. It would be another ten years before her second book, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” was published. Both were collections of short stories or novelettes. Her only novel, “Ship of Fools” was published in 1962. The latter work was from her experiences on an ocean voyage she had taken before World War II. The book is written around the thoughts and actions of a diverse and multi-ethnic group of individuals as they travel from Mexico to Germany. In it she explores topics including but not limited to racism, social and economic classes, nationalism, love, relationships and many more though the thoughts, dialogue and actions of the passengers and crew of the ship. It was also adapted as a screenplay by Abby Mann in a feature film directed by Stanley Kramer for Columbia Pictures.

The film was released in 1965 and it produced the largest single financial sum earned by Porter in her career. Actors included Vivien Leigh in her final screen role, Simone Signoret, Jose Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Oskar Werner, Elizabeth Ashley, George Segal, musician Jose Greco and many others. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards but won two, for Best Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo) and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy; Set Decoration: Joseph Kish) both in the Black-and-White category. The other nominations were for Best Picture (winner: The Sound of Music), Best Actor (Oskar Werner), Best Actress (Simone Signoret), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Dunn), Best Writing – Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Abby Mann) and Best Costume Design in the Black and White category.

In 1977, her book “The Never-Ending Wrong” was published pertaining to the trial and 1927 executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolmeo Vanzetti in the 1920s. Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of robbery and murder for which they were tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Porter, along with many others believed that ethnic and political bias as well as technical deficiencies in the evidence contributed to their convictions. Protests were held as the trials and subsequent appeals worked their way through the court system, but the pair was executed in August 1927. Porter’s 1977 book recounts what she personally experienced as she worked with the groups that protested and spoke out against the convictions. Porter was 87 years old when it was released.

Image credit: Findagrave.com

Porter’s awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her release “The Collected Stories” and the National Book Award for the same collection. She also received a Gold Medal Award for Fiction form the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

She died in 1980 while residing at Silver Springs, Maryland. She was interred at Indian Creek cemetery next to the grave of her mother.

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