Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Susan V Donaldson


This biographical dissertation focuses upon Katherine Anne Porter's relationship with her literary agent, Cyrilly Abels, and her editors and publishers, Donald Brace and Seymour Lawrence, who were associated with Harcourt, Brace and Atlantic-Little, Brown respectively. The study is based upon the thousands of pages of correspondence between Porter and her professional associates housed in the Papers of Katherine Anne Porter at the University of Maryland. Porter's professional alliances are placed within the context of nineteenth and twentieth century publishing history and within a long tradition of idiosyncratic author editor/agent dependencies that can be traced throughout American literary history.;The heart of the dissertation includes in depth analysis of the writer's intimate and complex professional friendships with Donald Brace, Seymour Lawrence, and Cyrilly Abels. Porter became dependent upon her publishers for financial and emotional support. The writer's publishers strengthened her artistic identity and offered loyalty and continuous support. at the same time, they demanded the loyalty of their valued client, and they exerted powerful control over her creative agenda. Porter sought to please her publishers for personal as well as practical reasons. For three decades, she struggled to meet their demand that she unnaturally transform herself from a brilliant short story writer into a novelist. In trying fruitlessly to fulfill their expectation, her financial indebtedness to them grew steadily; she experienced years of frustration, anxiety, and despair, contributing to an arduous creative journey marked by prolonged silences. Gradually, Porter developed an extreme resentment, even hostility, toward her publishers, especially after she discovered that she had unknowingly relinquished all of her literary rights and controls to them. She discovered the hard way that the complete trust she had put in her publishers had been misguided. She would have been wise to employ the services of an agent early on in her career, but she mistakenly believed that agents were superfluous and would only interfere with the author-publisher bonds she wished to cultivate. By the time Porter finally chose to work with an agent she trusted implicitly, Cyrilly Abels, it was too late in her career to make a practical difference.;Katherine Anne Porter experienced the publishing world as intimate, familial, and nurturing and also as competitive, results-oriented, and mercenary. The contradictions within this world made it difficult for the writer to navigate, as her inner world of imagination and creativity were profoundly at odds with the practical aspects of profits, losses, contracts, and deadlines. Ironically, the writer's inability to distance herself from her editors and publishers encouraged her complete cooperation with them, so that she participated actively in her own artistic incarceration.



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