The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: M is for…


When Katherine Anne Porter donated her literary papers to University of Maryland in the 1960s, she also donated her complete personal library of over 3,800 titles. The collection covers a little bit of everything from history to poetry to hobbies. One of the most interesting parts of the collection is the marginalia – Porter’s scribbled handwriting on end papers and next to interesting paragraphs throughout her books.

Marginalia is a Latin term that refers to notes and drawings along the text block in a book. It’s one of the ways we can observe how readers interact with their books. Opinions on specific passages, personal edits, bored doodles, and all sorts of comments that a passionate reader will leave inside the pages of a book. Porter, an avid reader and author herself, often marked up the copies of teh books in her personal library, leaving us evidence of her thoughts and relationship to a particular work.

There are several kinds of markings you can discover in the Katherine Anne Porter Library. In some cases, Porter marked the front of books with the date and place where they were acquired. Sometimes she wrote notes about the author, especially if they were friends of hers. More commonly, Porter jotted down her thoughts on the content including research notes for her own writing pieces or missives on the book’s theme. She was a very opinionated woman and her marginalia reflects it.

For example, opening a copy of Sigmund Freud’s A General Introduction of Psychoanalysis and The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, you will uncover Porter’s distaste for the famed Austrian neurologist . Her comments show a hatred for Freud, calling him an idiot, among other names, and making lengthy comments throughout the text. Another interesting example of marginalia is Porter’s copy of Robert McAlmon’s Being Geniuses Together, which details the writings and personal anecdotes of many Modernist writers whom Porter met through social and literary circles in Paris and beyond. In her personal copy, Porter went through and marked everyone who she outlived and added the occasional captious comment on their personality. 

Not every book has extensive notes, but the marginalia provides unique insight into Porter’s mind and is a useful reference tool for researchers. Currently, we are compiling a list of which books have marginalia and the type of notation and hope to add it to the Katherine Anne Porter finding aid once it is completed.

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

Browse the finding aids to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and visit us in person to see more of Katherine Anne Porter’s personal library. Contact us to learn more!

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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