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Arts & Culture

A Portal Into a Pulitzer Winner’s Thoughts

Libraries’ New Website Gives Context to Katherine Anne Porter’s Life of Letters

By Eric Bartheld

Katerine Anne Porter collage

Photos by Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries

University Libraries is digitizing nearly 4,000 of Katherine Anne Porter’s personal letters, such as the one below from October 1944 discussing the success of one of her books.

American author Katherine Anne Porter had a near-death encounter with the Spanish flu, fearlessly traveled to Mexico after the Revolution and Germany during the Nazi Party’s rise, and won the Pulitzer Prize for a novel at age 75.

The University of Maryland Libraries, the primary archive for Porter’s papers, manuscripts and personal library, is now making her correspondence easily available to all, digitizing nearly 4,000 of the author’s personal letters in a new online resource.  

The Porter archives, the largest such literary collection in the country, are particularly valuable because of the author’s celebrated position in American literature.Katherine Anne Porter letter

“Porter lived and traveled around the world, writing candidly to her family and close circle of artistic and literary friends,” said Amber Kohl, curator of literature and rare book collections for the University Libraries. “The goal of the website is to provide access to the letters as well as this rich contextual background so we can place her life and work in a broader historical framework.”

As the website outlines, Porter (1890–1980) was born in Texas and traveled extensively. She lived in New York City throughout the 1920s and in Washington, D.C., during World War II and throughout the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations. Her friends and acquaintances included fellow writers, artists, publishers, authors, cultural figures and politicians.

Porter also lived for a time in College Park, Md., during the 1970s, in part to be near her archive and other personal effects, which she donated to the University of Maryland between 1966 and 1969. She was awarded an honorary degree by the university in 1966, the same year she received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “Ship of Fools” and the National Book Award for her collected stories.

Hornbake Library, home to the university’s Special Collections and University Archives, features a room dedicated to Porter’s life. The Katherine Anne Porter Room, established by the university in appreciation of Porter’s gift, houses over 3,000 volumes from Porter’s personal library,  including first editions of all of her works and copies inscribed by friends and fellow writers. Many of the volumes are annotated with notes and commentary by Porter herself. The room also displays furnishings from Porter’s home, personal photographs, and other items selected for display by the author.

The online resource Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977 remains a work in progress, and future upgrades—including the incorporation of thousands of additional digitized letters from the archive and the ability to search the correspondence text for keywords—will be introduced in the coming year.  

A grant from the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Trust provided funds for the project, led by the Special Collections and University Archives and Digital Systems Stewardship units of the University Libraries.

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