The $10 house in which Katherine Anne Porter grew up in Kyle is now worth nearly $1 million due to fundraising efforts to save and restore the house. What does the change mean for Porter's reputation?
Katherine Anne Porter seems to know what we're up to before we've done it. In photographs, she peers back at us as if to say, "No need to hide. I know exactly what you're up to and why you're doing it." She's knowing, but just what would she say if someone told her that nearly $1 million has been raised to restore the house in which she grew up in Kyle, a house that was bought for $10 in 1904? Would she be proud, this woman who couldn't wait to get the hell out of here? She might be caught off guard, surprised to hear that she is finally attaining the endorsement as a Texas writer that had largely eluded her while she was alive. "I think she would find a certain sense of justice," Tom Grimes says, "in the fact that she's in Best American Short Stories of the Century, her house is being preserved, and I think she'd like to know that TIL [Texas Institute of Letters] missed the mark about the more deserving writer," when, in 1939, the institution chose to award J. Frank Dobie for Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver over Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider.
Grimes is but one of a handful of people associated with Southwest Texas State University and various philanthropic foundations in Austin, Kyle, Buda, and San Marcos who have been raising endowment funds for over two years to first buy Porter's childhood home (which was about to go on the market), then restore it to its original structure, and finally make it into a museum and residence for writers, complete with a library accessible to the public provided by Barnes & Noble. A retired pharmaceutical magnate from Germany recently provided the final $600,000 needed to make the project viable. Curt Engelhorn's mother, Anita Schlemmer, was a childhood friend of Porter's who grew up playing with her at the Porter house. When Engelhorn came to Central Texas this April to see the house and to visit his mother's grave, it was evident, according to Mary Giberson, a resident of Buda who has helped with fundraising efforts and who has donated money herself, that Engelhorn was "very emotionally tied to this spot of earth and house." The $600,000 will fund operating costs for the next 10 years, but none of that amount will buy books for the writers who will be living at different times in the house. Barnes & Noble will donate $1,500 worth of new books, and a minimum of eight new books per month for the remainder of 1999 and throughout 2000, as well as an unlimited number of remaindered literary first editions. "One of the reasons this has been a success," Grimes says, "is because it's been a community project. The house is going to stay there, it's going to be used for a variety of purposes, bringing writers in to teach, to give readings ... and reach out in to the community, not just keep a writer at SWT." "The idea that it would be a place that would support young writers? I think [Porter] would be astonished," Don Graham says. "That would be the final irony, wouldn't it?"... Tim O'Brien will read on Thursday, September 30, at 7:30pm in the SWT Alkek Library Teaching Theater. Call 512/245-2163 for more information.