A Life in Letters: Katherine Anne Porter Digitization Continues!

We are excited to be back in action, kicking off phase 4 of the Katherine Anne Porter correspondence digitization project! Porter was an award winning author best known for her short stories, including Pale Horse, Pale Rider and her full length novel Ship of Fools. In 1966 Porter donated her literary archive to Special Collections at the University of Maryland, where a room was created in her honor. Now housed on the first floor of Hornbake Library, the Katherine Anne Porter room showcases book, photos, furniture, and memorabilia collected during her life.

Katherine Anne Porter talking with R. Lee Hornbake at the dedication of the original Katherine Anne Porter room in McKeldin library, May 15, 1968

When she was not writing fiction and nonfiction works, Porter was writing letters. She preferred to type letters over handwriting them and often saved carbon copies, which resulted in an extensive amount of correspondence documenting her everyday life and writing process. Digitizing her papers allows for scholars and casual readers alike to know more about Porter beyond what she officially published. She was an opinionated woman who live through some of the most important events of the 20th century. Despite being a self described hermit, Porter maintained many friendships and enjoyed cooking for them during visits. She also like to garden and to travel, but nothing came before her devotion to writing.

Several years ago we started a project to digitize all of the letters written by Porter to provide greater access to the collection and offer insight into the habits and thoughts of a notable literary figure. During the previous three phases, over 6,500 pages of letters between Porter and her family, friends, and publishers were catalogued and digitized. During phase 4 we plan to digitize an additional 4,900 pages of correspondence that document her awards, interviews, and interactions with students and the general public. We have begun gathering the metadata in preparation of digitization beginning this summer. Some of her communications are one time occurrences while others span many years, capturing true fondness– reading through her letters creates the feeling of being her close confidant.

We are in the early days of phase 4, but have already come across interesting snapshots of her life such as letters on her experience being in Italy when Pope John XXIII died, on her distaste for formal interviews, and on the hunt for communists within the Yaddo artistic community. Amidst the solemn and world-altering events, there is also levity in Porter’s letters; she discloses to a friend her celebrity crush on former vice president Alben Barkley and tells another of her child-like joy in learning to play the harpsichord, which is on display in the Katherine Anne Porter Room on the first floor of Hornbake Library. 

Harpsichord on display in the Katherine Anne Porter Room, Hornbake Library

You can find the currently available materials from the Katherine Anne Porter correspondence project here. Happy reading!

Mattie Lewis is a student in the Masters of Library and Information Sciences program and Graduate Assistant with the Katherine Anne Porter Collection at UMD.

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