The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: A is for…

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) is a celebrated Modernist writer who has a big presence in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland. Today we’re kicking off a new series of blog posts that will introduce you to Porter’s life and works using the ABCs.

A new letter will be posted each week, so stay tuned!

A is for Abels!

Cyrilly Abels (1903-1975) was a long time friend and agent of Katherine Anne Porter. The pair met when Porter wrote a story for Mademoiselle magazine, where Abels was the managing editor for more than a decade. Porter enjoyed writing the for the magazine because Abels wasn’t rigid in her requests. Porter had creative freedom to write fiction or nonfiction on any subject she liked and deadlines weren’t an issue. Abels gladly accepted a piece when it was completed and paid Porter well for her contributions. 

Porter highly distrusted agents, editors, and businessmen in the literary world. However, in 1962 when Abels set out on her own as a literary agent, Porter immediately became a client. Abels understood Porter’s writing habits and artistic temperament better than most. As an agent, Abels helped coordinate appearances, manage contracts, and act as a filter between for Porter and the publishing industry. She strongly advocated for Porter’s work to receive the recognition and remuneration it deserved. 

Abels acted as confidant as well, giving pep-talks to boost Porter’s morale. It wasn’t uncommon for the pair to go long stretches without seeing one another. So, their friendship was built through correspondence, talking about all manner of things, but especially gardening and fashion. Abels would send baskets of flowers to let Porter know she was thinking about her or even gift Porter money when she was in need. Paul Porter recalled his aunt’s relationship with her agent, writing “Cyrilly Abels was [one of] two people in her long life KAP never said an unkind word about, or tolerated one.”

You can explore digitized letters written by Katherine Anne Porter in the online exhibit Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977.

Browse the finding aid to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and the Cyrilly Abels papers to learn more about their relationship! Schedule an appointment to visit the reading room in Hornbake Library to explore the collections in person.


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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