Katherine Anne Porter and Texas: An Uneasy Relationship

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9780890964415: Katherine Anne Porter and Texas: An Uneasy Relationship
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Katherine Anne Porter, best known for her novel Ship of Fools, was an inveterate traveler a cosmopolitan jet-setter in the days before jets. But she was of humble origins, born in 1890 in the tiny hamlet of Indian Creek, Texas, and christened Callie Russell Porter. For most of her life she maintained a stormy relationship with her home state. That relationship is documented in a book published by Texas A&M University Press in 1990, the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s birth.

Edited by Clinton Machann and William Bedford Clark, Katherine Anne Porter and Texas: An Uneasy Relationship reveals the sources of Porter’s love-hate relationship with Texas. In 1939 the Texas Institute of Letters conferred an award on J. Frank Dobie’s adventure saga, Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver, rather than on Porter’s acclaimed short-story collection, Pale Horse, Pale Rider. The favoring of the male-interest, West Texas story over Porter’s finely crafted stories, with their female characters and some non-Texas settings, could not have helped Texas’ literary reputation. Twenty years later a misunderstanding occurred when Porter thought the University of Texas intended to name a new library after her. As a result of the misunderstanding, she bequeathed her papers and memorabilia to the University of Maryland rather than the University of Texas.

Katherine Anne Porter and Texas begins with an introduction by noted folklorist Sylvia Ann Grider. Part I contains the personal recollections of three individuals who knew Porter from very different perspectives. Willene Hendrick became acquainted” with Porter by trying to piece together the puzzle of her early life. Cleanth Brooks, the distinguished critic of Southern literature, contributes a cache of fascinating letters received from Porter over the years. Finally, Paul Porter relates in hilarious detail his memories of rambunctious Aunt Katherine, telling, for example, of her samurai-like attempts to carve a leg of lamb at a fancy dinner party.

In addition to these entertaining chapters, essays by Joan Givner, Don Graham, Thomas F. Walsh, Janis P. Stout, and Darlene Harbour Unrue search out the Texas imprint on Porter’s fiction. Sally Dee Wade contributes an extensive, annotated bibliography of letters, articles, and other writings by or about Porter, all of which document the Texas connection” that the cosmopolitan Porter vigorously denied. This bibliography includes description of the correspondence between her and University of Texas officials that sealed her estrangement from Texas.

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“[Joan] Givner’s piece, ‘Problems of Personal Identity in Texas’ ‘First Writer,’ and University of Texas professor Don Graham’s essay, ‘A Southern Writer in Texas: Porter and the Texas Literary Tradition’ stand out—the former because it discusses the problems inherent for women writers in a society that treats them as works of art rather than creators of art, and the latter because it defines Porter’s work as Southern-based Texas writing, not Western-based like Dobie’s.”--Sophie Sartain (Sophie Sartain)

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