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Katherine Anne Porter (15 May 1890 – 18 September 1980)

 

 

Katherine Anne Porter was born in Indian Creek, Texas the fourth of

five children of Harrison Boone Porter and Alice (Jones) Porter. Her

family tree can be traced back to American frontiersman Daniel Boone, a

heritage of which she was proud.

 

In 1892, when Porter was two years old, her mother died two months after

giving birth to her last child. Her father took his four surviving

children (an older brother had died in infancy) to live with his mother,

Catherine Ann Porter, in Kyle, Texas. The depth of her grandmother's

influence can be inferred from Porter's later adoption of her name. Her

grandmother died while taking 11 year-old Callie to visit relatives in

Marfa, Texas.

 

After her grandmother's death, the family lived in several towns in

Texas and Louisiana, staying with relatives or living in rented rooms.

She was enrolled in free schools wherever the family was living, and for

a year in 1904 she attended the Thomas School, a private Methodist

school in San Antonio, Texas. This was her only formal education beyond

grammar school.

 

In 1906, at age 16, she ran off and married John Henry Koontz, the son

of a wealthy Texas ranching family, and subsequently converted to their

religion, Roman Catholicism. Her husband was physically abusive; once

while drunk, he threw her down the stairs, breaking her ankle. On

another drunken occasion, he beat her to unconsciousness with a

hairbrush.

 

In 1914 she escaped to Chicago, where she worked briefly as an extra in

movies. She then returned to Texas and worked the small town circuit as

an actress and singer, divorcing Koontz in 1915. As part of her divorce

decree, she asked that her name be changed to Katherine Anne Porter.

 

Also in 1915, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent the

following two years in sanatoriums, where she decided to become a

writer. It was discovered during that time, however, that she had

bronchitis, not TB. In 1917, she began writing for the Fort Worth

Critic, critiquing dramas, and writing society gossip. In 1918, she

wrote for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado. She almost died

there that year during the influenza pandemic (the Spanish flu). When

she was discharged from the hospital months later, she was frail and

completely bald. When her hair finally grew back, it was white, and

remained that color for the rest of her life. Her experiences during

treatment provided the background for her novella Pale Horse, Pale

Rider.

 

In 1919, she moved to Greenwich Village in New York City and made her

living ghost writing, writing children's stories and doing publicity

work for a motion picture company. The year in New York City had a

politically radicalizing effect on her, and in 1920, she went to work

for a magazine publisher in Mexico, where she became acquainted with

members of the Mexican leftist movement, including Diego Rivera.

 

Eventually, however, she became disillusioned with the revolutionary

movement and its leaders. During this period, she also became intensely

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