BOOKS & THE CULTURE One Hundred Years of Katherine Anne Porter BY BRYCE MILLIGAN THE LETTERS OF KATHERINE ANNE PORTER Edited By Isabel Bayley Atlantic Monthly Press, 642 pages, $29.95 THE COLLECTED ESSAYS AND OCCASIONAL WRITINGS OF KATHERINE ANNE PORTER Houghton Mifflin, FLOWERING JUDAS AND OTHER STORIES By Katherine Anne Porter Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, PALE HORSE, PALE RIDER By Katherine Anne Porter Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, MAY 15 was the centenary of the birth of Katherine Anne Porter, a Texas literary wildflower with an eighth grade education inexplicable as anything but genius. Four books have been published to commemorate Porter’s centenary, three reprints and one volume of letters. Born at Indian Creek in 1890, Porter was raised by her father and grandmother after the death of her mother in 1892. After a conventional rural girlhood, Katherine Anne Maria Veronica Callista Russell Porter \(she off to study at the Ursuline Convent in New less than a year at the Thomas School for sum of her schooling. She was 14 when it ended. At 16 Callie married a railroad man in Victoria. By 26, she had divorced, done a stint in the Carlsbad Sanatorium in San Angelo, recovered from tuberculosis in a Dallas hospital, and determined that she would take the literary world by storm. And she did. Mecca for Porter was anywhere but Texas, so she headed for New York. Her first effort San Antonio writer Bryce Milligan is the author of several young adult novels set in 19th Century Texas. 18 MARCH 9, 1990 was a ballet libretto for no less a dancer than Anna Pavlova. Shortly thereafter she was appointed by the president of Mexico to write a catalogue for the Travelling Mexican Popular Arts Exposition. In 1923, she sold her first two short stories to Century Magazine one of the most prestigious publications of the era. The rest is history, but of a remarkably curious sort. Regarded almost universally as one of America’s best 20th century writers, she wrote only three slim collections of short stories and one novel, Ship of Fools, published in 1962. At the age of 72, after a lifetime of the financial dagger dance that is the lot of so many writers, Porter hit the critical, popular, and financial jackpot with Ship of Fools. Along came the EmersonThoreau Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and along came honorary doctorates from universities far and wide. The demand for her fiction soared, so along came The Collected Stories, with its attendant American Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. Then, except for occasional essays, along came virtual silence. She died in 1980 at the age of 90. Three of Katherine Anne Porter’s books have been reissued this year her two best known story collections, Flowering Judas and Pale Horse, Pale Rider, and her Collected Essays and Occasional Writings. Anyone with an interest in Texas letters will recall the story, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” called by A.C. Greene “the best Texas fiction ever written.” Anyone who ever had an American literature course has encountered “Flowering Judas.” These are indeed seminal works in the truest sense of that overworked word they were literary seeds which blossomed into thousands of imitative efforts, These new editions are nicely done, though lacking the critical introductions they deserve. This edition of Flowering Judas and Other Stories contains Porter’s introduction and the extra stories added to the 1940 ediIt is good to be able to obtain Porter’s Collected Essays again without having to pay rare book prices for the volume. Rereading Porter’s remarkably lucid critical works , two decades after they were first collected in book form proves the timelessness of many of her critical opinions. Her comments on the decline of public appreciation of the arts ring more true today than they did even in 1952: To abandon the arts means “altogether the destruction of the freedom of the artist, and when the artist loses his freedom it only means that everybody else has lost his.” Thus she cried out for public funding of the individual artist, yet she detested the “unholy alliance between the professors, the universities, the faculties, the critics and the working artist,” which produced “choices of talent so strange and … committees of selection so incompetent” that a “working” artist had come to mean one working for the universities. Not surprisingly, she was not very fond of the Texas Institute of Letters either. Nothing much has changed except the names of the institutions involved. The funds are still controlled, as Porter put it, “by men who are not artists and have very little concept of the meaning of the word.” But the gem among this Porter publishing binge is the Letters of Katherine Anne Porter, selected and edited by Porter’s hand-chosen literary executor, Isabel Bayley. Porter was not so important a writer that either readers or critics are likely to demand access to every jot and title of her correspondence, and Bayley has done an excellent job of selecting the relevant and most telling letters spanning the period of Porter’s working years, 1930 to 1963. Bayley describes the object of her selection process as producing “little bridges from idea to idea, from theme to theme.” And from mind to mind. Porter corresponded with an incredible array of the most brilliant literary figures of her day: Sylvia Beach, Cleanth Brooks, Malcolm Cowley, Hart Crane, John F. Kennedy, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Edith Sitwell, Robert among others. Bayley’s “little bridges” succeed not only in getting us from idea to idea, but from an almost legendary exterior portrait to a much more agreeable inner one. For the first time, this reviewer feels that the creator of Ship of Fools is clearly visible as a rather than merely an astute observer. Porter shines in her letters. She once wrote that she slaved over her critical work but that her fiction was mostly done in a single stint. Her correspondence comes over with the
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.