History of the Society

By Darlene Harbour Unrue, updated by Beth Alvarez, 2020

The Katherine Anne Porter Society was founded May 15, 1993, the 103rd anniversary of Katherine Anne Porter’s birth. The first assemblies of the Society took place May 28 and 30, 1993, at the annual conference of the American Literature Association (ALA) in Baltimore. Members of The Founding Committee, organized in 1992 and renamed the Coordinating Committee in 1993, were Professors Virginia Carr (Georgia State University), John Edward Hardy (Emeritus, the University of Illinois at Chicago), George Hendrick (the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana), Janis Stout (Texas A & M University), and Darlene Harbour Unrue (the University of Nevada, Las Vegas). Ruth M. (Beth) Alvarez, Curator of Literary Manuscripts at the University of Maryland Libraries, which houses the Katherine Anne Porter papers and archive, joined the committee in 1993.

The first formal function of the society was a celebration dinner May 28, 1993, at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel, site of the ALA Convention in Baltimore. The founding committee selected a menu they hoped would not dishonor Katherine Anne Porter, who was also a celebrated cook. Among the inaugural members attending the dinner were Paul Porter, Katherine Anne Porter’s nephew, and longtime friends of Katherine Anne Porter, Fern and Bill Wilkins, Barbara Thompson Davis, and Cleanth Brooks. After dinner Professor Brooks addressed the group on the subject “Remembering Katherine Anne Porter.” His remarks included excerpts from an extensive correspondence between Katherine Anne Porter and his wife, Edith Amy (Tinkum) Brooks.

The first session of The Katherine Anne Porter Society was held May 30, 1993, under the title “Katherine Anne Porter in the Modern Age.” Papers were presented by Janis Stout, Beth Alvarez, and Will Brantley (Middle Tennessee State University). Among the five seminars that closed the conference later that day was “Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools.” The dozen participants, who had signed up in advance, joined in a lively discussion of Katherine Anne Porter’s only long novel.

Since 1993, The Katherine Anne Porter Society has held sessions at the ALA conferences and occasionally at other scholarly meetings. A list of papers presented at past conferences and events is available here.

The first officers of the Society, elected in 1995, were Darlene Harbour Unrue, President, and Janis Stout, Secretary. Carl Griffin was asked to chair the Katherine Anne Porter Preservation Committee, devoted to locating and safeguarding Katherine Anne Porter artifacts and memorabilia. In 1998, Beth Alvarez was elected president of the Society, and Janis Stout agreed to remain as secretary. The Coordinating Committee was renamed the Executive Committee, and Barbara Thompson Davis, trustee of the Katherine Anne Porter literary estate, joined the committee. In 2006, Alexandra Subramanian was elected president of the Society, and Beth Alvarez, Thomas Austenfeld, Jerry Findley, Christine Hait, and Darlene Unrue joined her as members of the Executive Committee. Re-elected in 2009, Alexandra Subramanian appointed Christine Grogan to the Executive Committee to join those serving since 2006. Christine Grogan was elected the fourth president of the Society in 2012 and served two terms. Members of the Executive Committee during her term include Beth Alvarez, Alice Cheylan, Jerry Findley, Jeffrey Lawrence, Alexandra Subramanian, and Darlene Unrue. Jerry Findley was elected president of the Society in 2019.  Members of the Executive Committee during his tenure include Beth Alvarez, Alice Cheylan, Christine Grogan, Jeffrey Lawrence, and Darlene Unrue.

Since its founding The Katherine Anne Porter Society whenever possible has participated in symposia such as that on American Women Writers in San Antonio in 1993 and other literary conferences such as those of the Western American Literature Association and The Society for the Study of Southern Literature. The Katherine Anne Porter Society has established strong ties with the University of Maryland, which is home to the Katherine Anne Porter Room as well as her personal papers, library, and personal possessions. It also has ties to Texas State University, in San Marcos, which has Porter holdings among its Southwestern Writers Collection and oversees the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, which comprises the Porter’s childhood home at 508 Center Street in Kyle, Texas, and an adjacent seminar building. The house is both a museum and a home for a writer-in-residence, and the seminar building, which houses archives and a small library, is used for classes, readings, lectures, book signings, and other public events.

At the time the Society was founded, the Newsletter of The Katherine Anne Porter Society was also established. Darlene Unrue was the first editor, and Beth Alvarez assumed the editorship in 1996. Regular features of the copyrighted Newsletter included summaries, minutes, and financial reports from the Society’s ALA sessions and business meetings; accounts of Katherine Anne Porter activities at the University of Maryland Libraries; photographs reproduced from the Porter archive at Maryland; biographical articles by persons who knew Porter; brief critical articles on Porter’s work; announcements of conferences and literary prizes; miscellaneous articles of interest of KAP Society members; and a “year’s work” bibliography of published works, theses, and dissertations relevant to Porter’s life and work. The newsletter was regularly published from May 1994 to July 2008 and resumed as an online publication with Volume 15 in October 2014. Christine Grogan served as editor of the newsletter from 2014 to 2019.  Amber Kohl became editor in 2020. Issues of the newsletter are available online.

Membership in The Katherine Anne Porter Society has grown steadily since its founding in 1993 and includes members throughout the United States and in numerous foreign countries.  The Society welcomes anyone interested in the life and work of Katherine Anne Porter. Annual dues are $10. Consult “How to Join” for details on becoming a member.