Resting 20 miles south of the City of Austin sits a three-roomed house in the quaint town of Kyle, Texas, where a small child and her five-membered family moved as the result of a tragic death. This now-motherless child, Katherine Anne Porter, filled her days in this home with dancing, singing, drawing, and playing piano, experimenting with finding her given talents. Porter embraced the multitude of her capabilities, practicing often, for there was little to do in regard to entertainment in the late nineteenth century. What she soon discovered, though, is a disinterest in her hobbies due to a lack of fulfillment.
Although the town of Kyle had a limited number of resources, there was never a deficiency in the number of available books. Her home contained a reading room, a collection filled with a lifetime of novels.
“All the old houses that I knew when I was a child were full of books, bought generation after generation by members of the family,” Porter said in 1963. “Everyone was literate as a matter of course. Nobody told you to read this or not to read that. It was there to read, and we read.”
Porter immersed herself in the world of Shakespeare, reading and memorizing sonnets by the time she was thirteen years old. She also developed a great love for the writings of Montaigne, Voltaire, Homer, Ronsard, and the like. When she became a little older, she discovered Wuthering Heights, which she said in 1963 that she read every year for fifteen years.
Katherine was raised by her grandmother, Cat, whom she greatly adored and admired. Tragedy struck in 1901 when Cat passed away, which led to Katherine’s family relocating to other parts of Texas and eventually ending up in Louisiana for a short period of time.
Katherine got through this trying time by continuing to read, which was a passion passed down from her deceased relatives. Her father’s second cousin was the acclaimed writer William Sidney Porter, known as O. Henry. “I think it’s something in the blood,” she once said. “We’ve always had great letter writers, readers, great storytellers in our family. I’ve listened all my life to articulate people. They were all great storytellers, and every story had shape and meaning and point.”
In 1906, a few years after the death of her grandmother, she married John Henry Koontz in Lufkin, Texas. She was just sixteen years old. Their marriage ended in 1914 when she left and set off to Chicago to begin her career as an extra in movies. She did not stay there long; she returned to Texas to end her divorce with Koontz once and for all.
Shortly after her divorce, she became ill with bronchitis. She was unable to leave the confines of her bed for almost two years, and during this hospital stay, she decided to become a writer. When she rose from her bed, she went back to Chicago and became a regular columnist for the Rocky Mountain News. After this, Porter knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life writing.
Her writing was no longer only a passion but a desire, something she needed to do to fulfill her destiny. Her job at the Rocky Mountain News paved her way to New York City. She decided to become a ghostwriter, which means she did not use her given name when she wrote. As a ghostwriter, her main focus was writing children’s books, but she decided that this did not fulfill her needs either.
It was not until 1920 that she decided to expand her horizons and embark on an adventure. She wanted to learn more about what went on outside of the United States, and her curiosity and yearning resulted in her move to Mexico City. During her time in the city, she worked for another magazine company, but on the side, she began to write the short stories for which she is widely known.
Her most-read story is called Maria Concepcion, which is in her book of short stories called Flowering Judas. Reading this story, it is easy to decipher that Porter’s writing was greatly influenced by her time in Mexico. The short story is about a pregnant wife named Maria who must cope with the infidelity brought into her life by her husband, Juan. Porter’s talent for placing the reader into an entirely fictional world is no secret, and her ability to make a fabricated character seem real is extraordinary.
“Her straight back outlined itself strongly under her clean, bright blue cotton rebozo. Instinctive serenity softened her black eyes, shaped like almonds, set far apart, and tilted a bit endwise. She walked with the free, natural, guarded ease of the primitive woman carrying an unborn child,” she wrote in Maria Concepcion.
Porter has the ability to paint a vivid picture for all of her readers, no matter what year it may be. Her stories stand the test of time, and they will continue to do so for years to come. She was unlike any writer of her time.
As a woman writing in the early 20th century, she faced many challenges. It was not considered a woman’s place to write, and it was a common misconception that women were incapable of piecing together an intelligent and legible story for a wider audience. Porter did not let that stop her, and she did not let the stereotypes of the era hinder her work. It was also not common to get a divorce in the 1920s, but Porter got divorced three times after her first one. Porter challenged a world dominated by men through the philosophies of her life and through her literary works.
Her success did not stop with her short stories. In her later years, she worked as a teacher at accredited universities such as Stanford University and the University of Texas. She published six short story collections and a novel titled Ship of Fools, which was later adapted into a movie. In 1966, she won the Pulitzer Prize, one of the most distinguished honors in literature, for her short stories. (She was nominated for three more Pulitzer Prizes for her work after that.) That same year, she won The National Book Award for The Collected Short Stories, and one year later she received the Gold Medal Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Katherine Anne Porter died September 18, 1980, at the age of 90. Her ashes were buried next to her mother in the Indian Creek Cemetery in Texas. That three-roomed house in Kyle still exists today, inviting people all over the world to get a glimpse into the life of Katherine Anne Porter. In 2000, this quaint home was turned into the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, and in 2002 it was designated a literary landmark. The house is now in the National Register of Historic Places.
Porter loved her life, and she felt undeniable fortune for everything that she accomplished. “I look back on it now and think how perfectly wonderful, what a tremendously beautiful life it was. Everything in it had meaning,” Katherine said.