It’s the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Anne Porter (books by this author), born Callie Russell Porter in Indian Creek, Texas (1890). She was brought up by her beloved grandmother, Catherine Anne, whose name she later took. Porter grew up surrounded by books. She said: “All the old houses that I knew when I was a child were full of books, bought generation after generation by members of the family. Everyone was literate as a matter of course. Nobody told you to read this or not to read that. It was there to read, and we read.” She especially loved Dante and Henry James.
There wasn’t much money, or schooling, and Porter married at 16. Her husband was a drunk, and abusive, and she divorced him when she was 21. She moved to Chicago and got a job writing about movies, occasionally taking work as an extra. It was while writing for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver that she contracted the flu during the 1918 pandemic and spent months in the hospital recovering. When she was discharged, she was bald. When her hair started growing back, it came in white, and that’s the way she kept it for the rest of her life.
Her first book, Flowering Judas and Other Stories, was published in 1930. Her next was a trilogy of short novels, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1935), which garnered her considerable acclaim. For the next 30 years, she subsisted on money she earned from teaching, grants, selling short stories, and advances, while she worked on a novel about a group of characters sailing on a ship from Mexico to Germany. It took her 22 years to finish the book, which she called Ship of Fools. Whenever her publisher would ask about it, Porter would snap: “Look here, this is my life and my work and you keep out of it. When I have a book I will be glad to have it published.”
Ship of Fools was finally published in 1962 and outsold every other book published that year. The film rights were sold for half a million dollars. Porter was able to live comfortably for the rest of her life. The film version (1965) was directed by Stanley Kramer and featured Vivien Leigh in her last film role.
Porter won the Pulitzer Prize (1966) for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter.
Katherine Anne Porter said: “I have a very firm belief that the life of no man can be explained in terms of his experiences, of what has happened to him, because in spite of all the poetry, all the philosophy to the contrary, we are not really masters of our fate. We don’t really direct our lives unaided and unobstructed. Our being is subject to all the chances of life. There are so many things we are capable of, that we could be or do. The potentialities are so great that we never, any of us, are more than one-fourth fulfilled. Except that there may be one powerful motivating force that simply carries you along, and I think that was true of me.”