Special Collections Spotlight: Katherine Anne Porter papers

Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library is home to the literary archive of Texas-born author Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980). She is best know for her short stories and bestselling novel Ship of Fools. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1966 for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter.

Porter’s personal papers reflect her interests in writing, travel, politics, and current events and also document her private life. The collection includes correspondence, notes and drafts for her works, publications, legal documents, and financial records. It also includes over 1,500 photographs from her personal collection, dating from the 1890s to 1979. Subjects of both snapshots and professional portraits include Porter, her family, friends, homes, and places she visited. The Porter collection also contains memorabilia, including Mexican pottery, furniture, awards, and diplomas, as well as her personal library. Many of these objects and a portion of her library are housed in the Katherine Anne Porter Room in Hornbake Library.

Shortly after accepting an honorary degree from the University of Maryland in 1966, Porter announced that she would donate her papers, personal library, and other personal effects to the University of Maryland, where the Katherine Anne Porter Room was dedicated in McKeldin Library on May 15, 1968. She moved to College Park in 1969, in part to be closer to the university and her papers. From that time until ill health prevented it, Porter often visited the room to work on her papers. She thought of it as a place where individuals could “view and enjoy her library and furnishings” in an atmosphere that reflected her personal taste and style.

View our online wxhibit “Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives 1912-1977“.

Browse the fining aid to the Katherine Anne Porter papers.

Contact us for more information! 


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: 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: 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.

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.

Special Collections Spotlight: First Appearances collection

The First Appearances Collection consists of over 1,300 periodicals containing the “first appearance,” or first public dissemination, of literary works and other excerpts of novels, poems, and essays written by notable 20th century authors. The publications range from literary magazines, such as Little Review, Texas Quarterly, and Partisan Review to popular titles such as Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Spanning 1915 to 1977, the First Appearances Collection contains pieces such as “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway, “Ulysses” by James Joyce, and “Ship of Fools” by Katherine Anne Porter. The collection is also notable for its early editions of publications such as Time Magazine, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly, as well as more specialized publications such as the Yale Quarterly Review.

Authors represented in this collection include Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Thom Gunn, William Carlos Williams, Jack Kerouac, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Connor, Gertrude Stein, Amiri Baraka, Ezra Pound, and more.

Explore the First Appearances collection 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: 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.

Exploring Modernism in Literary Special Collections

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses in 1922, we are highlighting modernist literary works in the rare books collections in Hornbake Library.

James Joyce (1882-1941): Born in Dublin, Joyce was an Irish novelist and short story writer whose notable works include Finnegans Wake (1939), Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses. Joyce is most noteworthy for his experimental use of language and exploration of new literary methods, such as interior monologue and his use of a complex network of symbolic parallels. You can find works by Joyce including Ulysses first edition, first appearance, and other works such as Pomes Penyeach, Dubliners, Finnegans Wake, Exiles, and The mime of Mick, Nick, and the Maggies, a fragment from Work in progress in the rare books collection.

Other notable modernist writers in the archival collections include:
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982): Barnes was an avant-garde American artist, writer and noted journalist. She is best known for her novel Nightwood (1936), a classic modernist work and a groundbreaking novel often cited as the first modern lesbian novel. Her satirical Ladies Almanack (1928) is a cleverly fictionalized and humorous take on Barnes’s social circle in the lesbian salons of Paris in the 1920s. She also published Ryder (1928) and The Antiphon (1958) among other works of fiction. You can explore Barnes’s literary archive, including her writings, artwork, personal library, and personal correspondence in the Djuna Barnes papers.

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980): An American author and journalist, Porter is known primarily for her short stories and novel, Ship of Fools (1962). Her short story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” fictionalizes her experience almost dying during the 1918 Influenza epidemic. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1966 for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1965). You can explore her literary archive, including writings, photographs, and personal library in the Katherine Anne Porter papers. Her correspondence has been digitized and made available online in Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives: 1912-1977.

Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927): A German-born avant-garde poet and artist associated with the Dada movement, Von Freytag-Loringhoven was known for her flamboyancy and sexual frankness. She published her poems in The Little Review alongside chapters from James Joyce’s Ulysses. She was also a longtime friend of Djuna Barnes. You can explore her writing in the Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven papers.

Additional modernist writers that can be found in the literary archives are Isabel Bayley, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Frances McCullough, Hope Mirrlees’ papers which contain correspondence with T.S. Eliot and Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Ferdinand Reyher, Gertrude Stein, James Stern and Glenway Wescott.

You can also find works by many modernist writers in the rare books collection, such as: T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, Bertolt Brecht, Katherine Anne Porter, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, and Virginia Woolf

Two notable collections include:

For more, explore our Guide to Modernist Writers in Special Collections Libguide.

If you have any questions about our Literature and Rare Books collections please contact us. Follow us on social media (@hornbakelibrary) for behind the scenes updates!

Victoria Vera, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

Updated Resource: Katherine Anne Porter Papers Finding Aid

The Katherine Anne Porter papers finding aid has recently been updated with an additional series on the Katherine Anne Porter Library, which is comprised of over 3800 titles owned by author Katherine Anne Porter.  The Katherine Anne Porter Library includes presentation copies of works from authors such as Glenway Wescott and books inscribed to Katherine Anne Porter from writers like Marianne Moore.  The collection also includes unique copies of Porter’s works such as a copy of L’Arbre de Judée on vellum or a copy of Ship of Fools with Porter’s handwritten revisions.  These items, and more, can be found under the Inventories/Additional Information heading in the finding aid or by searching the catalog!

If you have any questions about the Katherine Anne Porter papers or our other Literature and Rare Books collections please contact us!


Caroline Ackiewicz, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

Katherine Anne Porter & the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part II, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Katherine Anne Porter was a young, aspiring writer when she contracted influenza during the 1918 pandemic in Denver, Colorado. Her case was so severe she was essentially given up for dead before making a surprising, albeit slow recovery. Read more about her experiences in “Katherine Anne Porter and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Part I, The Influenza Pandemic in Colorado”. Shortly following her recovery, Porter moved to New York and began her professional writing career. By the 1930s, she waswell on her way to becoming an established author, publishing, among others, the short stories “Maria Concepcion” (1922) and “Flowering Judas (1930).

Katherine Anne Porter portrait, circa 1934-1935. Katherine Anne Porter papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Nearly two decades after surviving the 1918 influenza pandemic, Porter drew upon her experience for the short novel “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”. First published in 1938, it is a tragic, surreal, and striking portrayal of facing death during both a pandemic and a period of American history that was already dominated by the immense death and devastation of the First World War.

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Katherine Anne Porter & the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part I: The Spanish Flu

“I think of my personal history as before the plague and since the plague.” 
– Katherine Anne Porter to Alfred Crosby, 13 June 1975

An unknown illness, shortage of hospital beds, fever induced hallucinations, and growing fear about a contagious and deadly plague. All of these frightening realities take place against the backdrop of young love and the First World War in Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”  tells the story of trauma and survival during the 1918 Influenza pandemic. A masterfully written short novel woven with poetic and, at times, surreal prose, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is also a personal story for Porter, recalling her experience contracting the illness in Colorado in October 1918. With striking similarities to the current pandemic, it is a beautiful, complex, and intimate glimpse into the experience of making it through the other side of a pandemic and the First World War.

Portrait of Katherine Anne Porter taken in early spring, Texas, 1918. Katherine Anne Porter papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

In the years leading up to the 1918 influenza pandemic, Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) had already faced a tumultuous life. Born in Texas, she was largely self taught and moved often with her family following the deaths of her mother and grandmother in 1892 and 1901 respectively. She was married and divorced three times, briefly worked as a movie extra in Chicago, taught children in a Dallas hospital, and wrote for several newspapers. Although she had begun writing, she had yet to publish her work in earnest.

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