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.