The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: L is for…

Lecture!

Katherine Anne Porter supported her writing by guest lecturing at conferences or working as a writer-in-residence. Porter estimated that she visited over 200 colleges and universities around the world. The reason Porter gave so many lectures, she said in an interview, is that if you want to write what you like, “you have to have a side job for your bread and butter. I developed a secondary skill of talking peoples ear off… I have been doing this for 35 years and students have remained the same, only with tighter pants and longer hair.”

Porter’s success with a summer class at Stanford University in 1947 resulted in several long teaching stints at universities: Stanford University (1948-1949); University of Michigan (1953-1954); University of Liege (Fulbright Fellow, 1954); University of Virginia (1958); and Washington and Lee University (1959). She also lectured at the University of Maryland, where she received an honorary degree. You can listen to her lecturing for Marc Kever’s English class in the Katherine Anne Porter Room in McKeldin Library on December 14, 1972: https://av.lib.umd.edu/media_objects/gm80hw07f (access restricted to users at the UMD College Park Campus).

Porter preferred evening lectures, as she liked to wear an evening gown and gloves. She wanted her appearances to be a memorable event! After the reading or discussion she would sign books and chat with attendees. Porter was a natural conversationalist. During her lectures she wanted the freedom to follow the natural course of an conversation, so she never wrote a script and made very few notes.

When she was a writer-in-residence, she tried to keep as simple of a schedule as she could manage. Two classes a week was more than enough to fill her time because she would inevitably receive endless social invitations from faculty and student group, leaving little to work on her own projects. She liked to have personal interactions with her students and would throw beef and beer parties to get to know them. Students were fond of Porter and still wrote her letters after the courses finished. 

Porter’s top advice for students? Learn how to read! In her opinion, students should read a little of everything, starting with her favorite literary work – Homer’s Odyssey. To Porter, books were meant to expand your thinking and she tried to impress upon students that becoming a great reader and writer takes a whole lifetime as there is always more to learn.

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 aid to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and visit us in person to learn more about the partnership between University of Maryland and Katherine Anne Porter. 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.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: K is for…

Kitchen!

Katherine Anne Porter loved to cook and entertain! She would swap recipes via letters and entice her friends to visit with promises of blueberry pancakes and smoked oysters. Even the simplest of dinners was an occasion for Porter. She would create detailed menus listing the attendees, courses served, and drinks to match. Bigger events like holidays and parties were an excuse for Porter to indulge in Moët champagne and cook favorite recipes from her travels around the world. Over the years, she saved labels from different products and write anecdotes about the meal and who she shared it with. When friends couldn’t make a visit, Porter would mail them her homemade “Hell Broth,” a fermented pepper sauce, to add warmth to soups and sauces. 

When the rubber spatula came out in 1920’s, it was a big deal for Porter who claimed it to be an astounding utensil! Porter’s interest in cooking lead to experiments with different ingredients. Sometimes her experimental cooking would go so far as to transform a recipe into a completely different dish from a totally different culture. She only measured by eye, calling the ability to cook a “gift” that required “your eye, your hand, and your sense of smell and taste to be present and all good friends.” Outside of dinner parties and recipe adventures, Porter took great joy in simple food too, like the perfect piece of toast. Of course, the bread was always homemade and it would be served alongside her kitchen staples of a cheap beefsteak and Old Forester whisky.

You can see some of Porter’s recipes and cookbook collection on display now in the Maryland Room! Browse the finding aid for the Katherine Anne Porter papers to explore her collection at UMD. 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.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: J is for…

Journalism!

While she received acclaim for her short novels and literary works, for a brief period of time Katherine Anne Porter was a journalist. In her 20s, she befriended Kitty Barry Crawford, co-founder of the Fort Worth Critic, while both women were hospitalized with tuberculosis in a sanitarium in Texas. In 1917, when her good health returned, Porter took a job with the weekly paper predominately writing theater reviews, but only stayed for a few months. At Kitty’s urging, Porter accompanied her to Colorado where she spent a year writing for the Rocky Mountain News. She once again focused on theater and society news, with an occasionally more somber piece as World War I went on.

Porter’s newspaper career was cut short when she fell ill during the 1918 influence pandemic and almost died. Porter later stated that her obituary had been written, funeral planned, and her family was simply waiting for her to pass. The experience reinforced Porter’s passion for serious writing and would eventually become the inspiration for her acclaimed story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” Throughout Porter’s life her work would continue to be published in literary journals and popular magazines, both fiction and non-fiction pieces, but she never resumed her work as a reporter or society columnist again.

Browse the finding aids to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and visit us in person to read clippings from Katherine Anne Porter’s time as a journalist. You can explore digitized letters from Katherine Anne Porter in the online exhibit Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977. 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.

Special Collections Spotlight: Carolyn Davis collection of Louisa May Alcott

The Carolyn Davis Collection consists of more than 300 books by and about Louisa May Alcott. This collection contains examples of almost all of Alcott’s most popular works as well as a number of her lesser-known writings. Among these titles are her first book Flower Fables, early to modern printings of Little Women, and a number of other works such as Little Men, Jo’s Boys, and Under the Lilacs. The collection also encompasses some biographies of Alcott, books about Concord, Massachusetts, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and ephemera.

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) is widely known as author of Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to the transcendental philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May, Louisa grew up in Concord, Massachusetts with her three sisters. The family often experienced severe poverty and Louisa’s income became pivotal to the family’s survival. She worked as a nurse, seamstress and domestic servant until the publication of her first book, Flower Fables, in 1855 which netted the author thirty-two dollars.

With the publication of Little Women in 1868, Alcott achieved critical and financial success. The characters of the novel were drawn from those of Alcott’s sisters, and many of its episodes from those she and her family had experienced. Alcott’s masterpiece was followed by a succession of wholesome domestic narratives, the so-called Little Women series.

Since Alcott’s death her reputation has been reappraised as a result of the discovery of a large number of sensational “pot-boilers,” written in secret and published anonymously or under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These tales, written prior to the publication of Little Women, earned her between $25 and $100 each from periodical story papers. Beginning in 1975, republication of Alcott’s sensational stories spurred interest in her long out-of-print novels. The discovery of these stories has led to a recognition of Alcott as a far more complex and prolific writer than was originally thought. 

Explore the Carolyn Davis collection of Louisa May Alcott finding aid.

To view any of Louisa May Alcott’s works in the collection visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library or if you have any questions, please contact us


What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: I is for…

Image!

Katherine Anne Porter’s image is striking and instantly recognizable. She was a young beauty with dark brown that was transformed stark white due the stress and treatment of Spanish Influenza in 1918. Her hair had been white for so long, she was sometimes mistaken for a blonde in black and white photographs. Even the postage stamp that was created in her honor in 2006 originally portrayed Porter as a blonde as a result of using black and white photos as reference.

As a well-known author, Porter tended to be very formal with her appearance with strong ideas about she looked and should be portrayed. She felt pictures of her, especially on book jackets or in newspapers, needed to be dignified to match her serious dedication to writing. She is often photographed professionally to show her unsmiling with her preferred ¾ profile. Porter felt that portrait style was more distinguished and flattering to her face shape. When not being photographed for media reasons, Porter is quick to smile, showing the still elegant but much more relaxed and private version of herself.

Porter was also close friends with photographer George Platt Lynes (1907-1955), who photographed Porter on many occasions. She was often posed in evening gowns with soft lighting, with the effect of creating an aura of old Hollywood glamour to Porter’s beauty.

You can see digitized photos of Katherine Anne Porter through Special Collection’s Digital Repository or visit the Maryland Room in-person. Browse the finding aid for the Katherine Anne Porter papers 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.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: H is for…

Husbands!

Trysts, affairs, partners, paramours… there was no shortage of lovers in Katherine Anne Porter’s life, five of whom she married. Her first husband was John Koontz, whom she married in 1906 when Porter was only 16 years old. The marriage was far from happy and Porter left her husband to pursue an acting career before formally divorcing Koontz in June 1915. In quick succession, Porter married and divorced her second husband T. Otto Tasket. Her third marriage in 1916 to Carl Von Pless was also short lived, lasting less than a year. 

Porter would be married twice more during her lifetime. In 1930, Porter met Eugene Pressly in Mexico. He was 14 years younger and worked for the U.S. Foreign Service; Porter moved with him to various posts throughout their relationship. In 1933, the pair was married in Paris, but were often away from each other due to conflicting schedules. They eventually separated in 1937. Her final marriage was to Albert Erskine Jr. in 1938 and only lasted two years. He was 21 years younger than Porter and also involved in the literary world. 

There is not a lot of information available about Porter’s early marriages. Official records, letters, and pictures have either been lost or destroyed. Porter’s romantic relationships were often tumultuous affairs that burned out quick. When things ended, she was prone to slicing up correspondence or setting it on fire in a dramatic effort to rid herself of the past. However, there are still many letters between Porter and her last two husbands throughout the respective courtships as well as letters between Porter and various lovers, offering an intimate look into the side of Porter that was always looking for love.

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 learn more about the partnership between University of Maryland and Katherine Anne Porter. 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.

Special Collections Spotlight: Thom Gunn papers

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) was a British poet, whose residence was primarily in the United States beginning in the 1950s. He published over thirty books of poetry, a collection of essays, and four edited collections. Gunn combined an interest in traditional poetics with less traditional subjects, such as Hell’s Angels, LSD, and homosexuality. The collection includes drafts, notebooks, publications, correspondence, and photographs. The bulk of the collection includes materials from his books Positives (1966) and Touch (1967), including many drafts and notes from Gunn’s most ambitious poem, “Misanthropos.”

The papers of Thom Gunn span the period from 1951 to 1983. The collection also contains copies of Gunn’s publications and some correspondence, most notably two letters to Donald Davie. Additional works by Thom Gunn can be found in our rare books collection.

View our Online Exhibit ‘Thom Gunn and “Misanthropos”‘.

Explore the Thom Gunn papers finding aid.

To view any items in the collection visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library or if you have any questions, please contact us


What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: G is for…

Gertrude Stein!

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was an American Modernist author well known for her Paris salon where she would bring together artists and writers in conversation during the 1930s . Katherine Anne Porter, a fellow Modernist writer, was also living in Paris at this time, but never attended the salon. In fact, the two women only met once during a rather uneventful evening.

Nevertheless, Porter has an striking connection to Gertrude Stein, primarily through three reviews Porter wrote on Stein’s work. Most notable of the three was a piece she wrote for Harper’s Magazine entitled Gertrude Stein, A Self Portrait, more commonly referenced under the title The Wooden Umbrella

The article started as a review of Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography in 1937, but was never published. 10 years later, after Stein’s death, Harper’s requested an updated article with the intention of publishing a timely literary piece. As was her style, Porter did not hold back her opinions. In the article, Porter criticized Stein’s writing style as simplistic and unfinished. She drew attention to Stein’s self-centeredness and the cult-like following of the expatriates who found their social/creative center in Stein’s Paris salon. 

The response to The Wooden Umbrella was polarized. Letters came pouring in calling Porter all manner of nasty names and warning her career would be destroyed in retaliation. Porter receive death threats as some people took to yelling harassments at her while she was out running errands. At one point, there was talk of suing Porter for libel. Fortunately for Porter, all of the quotes she used were drawn directly from Stein’s published works. Despite the relentless negative reactions from readers, others wrote letters praising Porter for illuminating the gaps in Stein’s work and personality. Porter herself called the piece a practice in understatement and self-restraint. 

All three pieces are printed in Porter’s The Days Before. Read them for yourself and pick a side!

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 learn more about the partnership between University of Maryland and Katherine Anne Porter. 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.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: F is for…

Flowering Judas!

Flowering Judas was first published in 1930 in Hound & Horn magazine and is one of Katherine Anne Porter’s most well known stories. The tale follows Laura, an American in Mexico, as she navigates new surroundings, her Catholic faith, and a socialist revolution. While Porter claims none of her work is autobiographical, Laura shares many similarities with Porter who lived in Mexico during the early 1920’s and kept company with artists and revolutionaries. 

The overarching theme of the book is betrayal, which relates back to the title as the Judas tree (similar to crepe myrtle) was named after the disciple who betrayed Jesus. After its initial publication, Flowering Judas was compiled with other stories into a book of the same name. 600 copies of the book were originally printed. Since then, it has been reprinted multiple times and translated into multiple languages.

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 learn more about the partnership between University of Maryland and Katherine Anne Porter. 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.

The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: E is for…

E. Barrett Prettyman!

Elijah Barrett Prettyman Jr. (1925-2016) is best known for his work in public service and with the U.S. Supreme Court. He clerked for three justices and argued 19 cases before the court, supporting first amendment rights and opposing the death penalty. He also served as counsel for the House of Representatives Ethics Committee. 

In private practice, Prettyman had a roster of celebrity clients, including Katherine Anne Porter. Prettyman was a keen reader and an author in his own right, having started in journalism before pursing a law degree and authoring the book Death and the Supreme Court, which won an Edgar Allen Poe Award. Prettyman first connected to Porter when he wrote her requesting an autograph after reading Ship of Fools. They exchanged a couple of letters and Porter eventually reached out to Prettyman for help writing her will. 

Porter was infatuated with Prettyman and would write him letters full of compliments and signed with love. She invited him to every party she threw or over for meals where they would simply sit and chat. Prettyman played along, genuinely enjoying their get togethers, but never taking her declarations of love too seriously. Their shared literary interests and mutual professional respect formed the base of a close friendship that lasted until Porter’s death.

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

Browse the finding aids to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and the E. Barrett Prettyman Papers.

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.