Day Trips

Texas-born Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Anne Porter left a literary legacy

The Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, Kyle
The Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, Kyle (Photo by Gerald McLeod)

Katherine Anne Porter had mixed emotions about her Texas roots. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author often embellished on her early life in poverty and even claimed to have been born in New Orleans or Chicago.

Porter was born as Callie Russell Porter in 1890 near the community of Indian Creek in southern Brown County. When her mother died, 2-year-old Callie went with three other siblings to live with her paternal grandmother in Kyle, south of Austin.

For the next 10 years, Catherine Anne Porter cared for her grandchildren until she passed away in 1901. Callie Porter took her grandmother's name, changing the "C" to a "K," as a pen name. Her grandmother appears in many of Porter's short stories, as do many of the characters that she met in Central Texas.

Porter's book The Collected Stories won her the most critical praise, including the National Book Award, but it was her only full-length novel, Ship of Fools, which brought her financial security. After a writing career that stretched from the Roaring Twenties to the turbulent Sixties, she came back to Texas as her final resting place.

After her grandmother's death, the family sold the house for $10 to settle debts. The original house consisted of three rooms and a sleeping porch. Over the years, a series of owners doubled the size of the house. In 1995, it opened as the short-lived Katherine Anne Porter Museum. It is now the home for writers-in-residence sponsored by the Texas State University creative writing program, says Connie Todd, curator at the Alkek Library's Wittliff Collections.

In a current exhibit at the library, "The Lightning Field: Mapping the Creative Process," one of Porter's manuscripts shows the writing process from editing to finished product. Porter's personal papers went to the University of Maryland's Katherine Anne Porter Library.

"We do have a wonderful archive on Ms. Porter," Todd says. The collection is based on the author's last visit to Texas. Roger Brooks, president of Howard Payne University in Brownwood, invited the celebrated writer back to Texas two years before her death in 1980. In preparation, he had asked writers from around the world to write a note on what Porter had contributed to the art of writing.

In addition to a permanent exhibit on the making of Lonesome Dove, the collection's holdings include documents from Cormac McCarthy, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, and Sam Shepard. "Call ahead, and we'll be glad to have the materials ready for you," Todd says.

The Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center (her childhood home) is at 508 W. Center St. in Kyle and is no longer open to the public. The Wittliff Collections are on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library on the Texas State University campus in San Marcos. For information, call 512/245-2313 or go to

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key words: Katherine Anne Porter, Callie Russell Porter, Ship of Fools, Katherine Anne Porter Museum, Wittliff Collections

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