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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Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project: An Introduction

“She always kept things secret in such a public way.”

Katherine Anne Porter, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” (1930)

        Katherine Anne Porter’s description of Cornelia, daughter of the titular Granny Weatherall, is apt considering the tensions between Porter’s own private and public personas. Porter, too, was a secretly-public person – she was forthcoming with information about her life and experience, though she sometimes elaborated on the facts, exaggerating details or creating new information.  The reality of her life became mysterious, as Callie Russell Porter became the Katherine Anne Porter who captivated the literary communities of which she was a part. In the margins of Katherine Anne’s books in Hornbake Library’s Porter Room, there are even notes from Katherine Anne’s sister, Gay, that call attention to the points at which Katherine Anne’s stories depart from or obscure the source material of her own life.


Katherine Anne Porter with hair down in garden, Mixcoac, Mexico. Back inscription: “Ophelia in Mixcoac, March 1931.”
Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries
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The Letters of Katherine Anne Porter Now Available Online!

We are proud to announce a new online resource exploring the life and work American author Katherine Anne Porter is now available!

Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977  provides access to digitized correspondence written by Porter, whose literary archives is held in Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library. Previously, researchers interested in reading her letters visited the Maryland Room (the reading room for special collections and University Archives) in person or requested photocopies/scans of the materials. Now, users have instant access to approximately 3800 items of her correspondence, which have been digitized and made accessible online, via a searchable and browsable database .

This online resource is the result of an extensive digitization project in the Libraries. The Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project is an ongoing collaboration between the University of Maryland Libraries Special Collections and University Archives and Digital System and Stewardship units, supported by a grant from the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Trust. 

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) is known primarily for her short stories and 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. She lived a rich life, traveling across the United States and abroad while writing both fiction and nonfiction. Her correspondence highlights her interests in writing, travel, politics, and current events, as well as documenting her private life and career.

Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977  offers a glimpse into her bustling life and career, providing background information and historical context for both Porter enthusiasts and those unfamiliar with her work.

Along with images of Porter throughout her life, users can explore details of Porter’s life by decade, as well as by the places she lived and visited, both in the US and abroad. These glimpses into her biography reveal fascinating aspects of her life. For example, did you know Katherine Anne Porter contracted the Spanish Influenza while working as a reporter in Denver? That she lived in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party? Did you know Porter lived in College Park, MD? And she lived in Washington D.C. at the time of the Kennedy inauguration?

Visit Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977 and discover more!

Celebrating Black Authors and Poets in Special Collections

To celebrate Black History Month, a new exhibit is on display in Hornbake Library highlighting black authors and poets from our literary collections in Special Collections and University Archives!

On display are landmark 20th century literary works by Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alex Haley, W.E.B. DuBois, Chester Himes, John A. Williams , and Richard Wright. Also included in the exhibit is poetry by Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, and Ted Joans.

Ranging from signed first editions (Invisible Man, Ellison) to popular trade paperback editions (If He Hollers Let Him Go, Himes), these titles offer a glimpse into the wide variety of African American literature and poetry in our collections.

Also on display is a rare edition of Negro Anthology, edited by activist Nancy Cunard. Published in 1934, Negro Anthology is a collection of poetry, historical studies, music, and other writings documenting Black culture of the era. Artists represented in the book include Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

Visit Hornbake Library to view these impressive works of literature in person, or visit us online to explore more titles in our literary collections.

Have any questions? Contact us!

Newsletter of the Katherine Anne Porter Society – May 2017

Newsletter of the Katherine Anne Porter Society – May 2017

Special Collections and University Archives is home to the Katherine Anne Porter papers and other related collections. The Newsletter of the Katherine Anne Porter Society features updates on Porter activities at the University of Maryland Libraries, articles, meeting summaries, announcements of conferences and literary prizes, and other updates relevant to Porter’s life and work.

Learn more about the Katherine Anne Porter Society online.

Happy Holidays from Special Collections

A new exhibit is on display in the Maryland Room will get you in the holiday spirit! We’ve selected the jolliest holiday cards and ephemera from our literary and historical several collections, including the Theodore R. McKeldin Paper, Gordon W. Prange Papers, Djuna Barnes Papers, Robert Frost Book Collection, and Spiro T. Agnew Papers, and  William Addison Dwiggins Collection.

Items from our literary collection include a selection of holiday chapbooks printed by the Spiral Press with the poetry of Robert Frost.  Colorful holiday cards from author T.S. Eliot and socialite Peggy Guggenheim to writer/artist Djuna Barnes are also featured. An impressive oversized edition of A Christmas Carol on display was designed and illustrated by W.A. Dwiggins, and was bound in festive green leather and marbled paper design.

We also pulled interesting holiday-themed items from our historical collection, including a set of beautiful Japanese inspired holiday cards received by UMD professor and historian Gordon W. Prange. A variety of presidential holiday cards given to Governor of Maryland Theodore McKeldin include holiday greetings from US Presidents Nixon, Eisenhower, Johnson, as well as the President of Israel Zalman Sazar. A political cartoon with Santa from the AFL-CIO archives and speech given by Vice President Agnew at a tree lighting ceremony on Washington DC also add to the historical holiday fun.

Visit the Maryland Room to explore the holiday fun! You can also pick up a free holiday card featuring images from our Baltimore News American Photograph Collection!

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Remembering E. Barrett Prettyman

On November 4, 2016, E. Barret Prettyman Jr. (1925-2016) passed away. He was a well-known attorney with an impressive legacy that spans international relations, civil rights, literature, and more. He also holds an interesting connection to American author Katherine Anne Porter and the University of Maryland.

You care about Prettyman if you care about important Supreme Court cases like Brown versus Board of Education, the landmark case that desegregated public schools, and for which Prettyman served as on the advisory council for in 1954. You care about Prettyman if you care about the 1962 release of American prisoners taken during Bay of Pigs crisis during which Prettyman successfully negotiated with then Cuban President Fidel Castro for their return and safe release. You care about Prettyman if you are at all concerned with the House Ethics committee, the First Ammendment, and the death penalty. Over the course of his long legal career, Prettyman became heavily involved with all of these areas of the legal system. The obituaries in the Washington Post and New York Times illustrate his storied career and commitment to the legal system.

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Portrait of Prettyman inscribed to Porter: “For Katherine Anne, With happy memories of lovely, relaxed, and fiery reminiscent afternoons of good talk in the best of company, and with love, Barrett”

As the one of the repositories of Prettyman’s personal papers, Special Collections and University Archives at UMD holds not only the documents that reveal Prettyman’s legal Continue reading

Literary Special Collections

Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library is home to a wide array rare and unique literary collections. From personal papers of authors and poets to early printed works, our collections cross a variety of subjects and time periods in the literary world.

Archival Collections

Below are some highlights from our archival literary collections in Hornbake Library:

  • Katherine Anne Porter papers
    • Personal papers of American author Katheriane Anne Porter (1890-1980), best known for her short stories and novel Ship of Fools (1962).
  • Djuna Barnes papers
    • Personal papers of avant-garde American writer and artist Djuna Barnes (1892-1982), best known for her novel Nightwood (1936).
  • Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven papers
    • Personal papers of avant-garde artist and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927). She is associated with Djuna Barnes and the Dada movement.
  • Ernest Hemingway collection
    • A large portion of the collection consists of serials that include stories and nonfiction written by and about Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). It also includes some original correspondence to and from Hemingway. In addition, there are manuscripts and proofs of Hemingway’s work and biographies of Hemingway.
  • Literary First Appearances
    • Periodicals containing the “first appearance,” or first public dissemination, of many noteworthy 20th century literary works.
  • French Pamphlet Collection
    • Approximately 12,000 pieces dating from 1620 to 1966, covering many key episodes in the history of France. The largest part of the collection is made up of 7000 pamphlets from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, 1788-1815.
  • African American Pamphlet Collection
    • 20th century materials on African, African-American, and Caribbean culture and literature. The collection spans the years 1905-1979, although the majority of the pamphlets date from the 1960s and 1970s.

Subject Guides

Rare Book Collections

Our rare book collections contain books printed from the 16th century to modern times. Most are searchable in the online catalog. Below are some highlights from the collection:

  • German Expressionism collection
    • Contains serials and books that reflect German Expressionism, a culural, literary, and artistic movement that began in Germany prior to the First World War.
  • William Morris collection
    • Works by 19th century British author, socialist, designer and founder of the Kelmscott Press, William Morris (1834-1896).
  • Eikon Basilike
    • Guide to the Eikon Basilike and related materials held by Special Collections and University Archives

Want to learn more? Explore our literary special collections online or visit the Maryland Room to speak to a librarian. You can also contact us via email.

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