American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 3

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

KATHERINE ANNE PORTER

1890-1980

KATHERINE ANNE PORTER was born on May 15, 1890, in Indian Creek, Texas.She was educated at a southern convent and at private schools before working as a newspaperwoman in Chicago and Denver.In 1920, she left for Mexico, which would become the scene of several of her stories, including her first published story, "Maria Concepcion" ( 1922). Porter would travel widely in Mexico, Germany, and France.She was in Mexico when the revolution ended in 1920; in New York City throughout the 1920s; in the company of other American expatriates in Paris during the 1930s; in Germany as the Nazis began to rise; in Washington, D.C., during World War II and again during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Only France failed to provide a setting for her writing. She did, however, translate a French song book in 1933.

Porters first book of stories, Flowering Judas, which included "Maria Concepcion," was not published until 1930, although she had been writing for many years. The book was an immediate critical and popular success and was expanded and reissued in 1935. Her subtle and penetrating psychological portraits are drawn in an economical, clear style; her long stories achieve a complexity usually found in novels. In Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels ( 1939), the title story is a tale of youthful love ended brutally by the influenza epidemic of 1919. The heroine of the story is Miranda, a strong, independent, and questioning figure who appears also in "The Grave" and " Old Mortality." In the title story of Porter's collection The Leaning Tower ( 1944), a young Texas artist in Berlin responds to the rise of Nazism.

Porter's only full-length novel was published when she was 72 years old and after much critical anticipation: Ship of Fools ( 1962) also addresses the spectre of Nazism. In this moral allegory, a group of international passengers are on a voyage of life from Mexico to Germany on the eve of Hitler's political triumph in 1931. During the 27-day journey, Porter's characters support her argument that "evil is always done with the collusion of good." The book was a best-seller and adapted to film, but critics preferred her short stories.

Her Collected Stories ( 1965) won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1966. The Days Before, published in 1952, revised in 1970, and reissued as The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter, is a collection of essays, articles, book reviews, poetry, and a brief journalistic memoir.

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