Katherine Anne Porter Room | Special Collections and University Archives
Katherine Anne Porter Room
Open, free to the public.
Location: 1st floor Hornbake Library
Hours: open most Wednesdays 1:30-4:00pm (during the regular semester)
To arrange a private tour, please contact us.
About the Porter Room
The Katherine Anne Porter Room was established by the University of Maryland in appreciation of the generosity and interest of this distinguished American author. From that time until ill health prevented it, Miss Porter came often to this room to work on her papers. She thought of it as a place where individuals could "view and enjoy her library and furnishings" in an atmosphere that reflected her personal taste and style.
Establishing the Room
The Porter Room was formally opened on May 15, 1968, in McKeldin Library and came about as a result of the University of Maryland awarding an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, to Miss Porter in June 1966. The commencement ceremonies at which Miss Porter was to receive this degree took place on June 4, 1966. When Miss Porter, then 76, was unable to attend the event because of illness, University President Wilson Elkins wrote her and asked if the degree could be awarded at her home in Washington, D.C. In an interview, Miss Porter recounted the details of this occasion:
About twenty-five people piled out and into the house, including faculty members and students. . . . I put on the long robe and we went through the whole ceremony. . . . I was so happy and pleased, and I asked if they would like a little champagne—Moet et Chandon, my favorite. It was one of the most charming things that has happened to me.
Porter's Papers and Personal Library
In early October 1966, Miss Porter offered her papers and personal library to the University. When Miss Porter visited McKeldin Library with Dr. Elkins to discuss the arrangements, he offered to house and provide access to her papers in a room named for her. In a 1976 letter, Miss Porter described this offer.
This was by no means a solemn ritual vow but was in a light pleasant conversation we were having as we looked at the letters over the entrance and for me a promise of a kind of perpetuity of friendship and I have certain very tender sensibilities about this room. . . . It contains at least half of my life in record form.
A finding aid lists the entirety of Miss Porter's papers and manuscripts available to researchers at the University of Maryland and a guide provides relevant and useful resources for understanding Miss Porter and her work.
Furnishings and Memorabilia
After President Elkins made this "generous, charming gesture," Miss Porter added furnishings from her home, memorabilia to her bequest, as well as hand picking the framed items on the wall. These items, many of which are on display in the room today, recreate the ambiance of her home in the Spring Valley neighborhood of the District of Columbia where Miss Porter lived from 1964 to 1969. The fifteenth-century refectory table and the two sixteenth-century benches, the upholstered sixteenth-century stools and one of the sixteenth-century chapel chairs came from her home library. The eighteenth-century rosewood draftsman's desk, which Miss Porter used for thirty years, came from her study. Other furnishings include the immense Oriental carpet she purchased from the Turkish embassy, the eighteenth-century Louis XV fruitwood sofa (or canapé as Miss Porter called it), and the sixteenth-century Spanish chair and table.
The room houses, in glass-fronted bookcases, a portion of the nearly 3,700 titles of her personal library. The room also contains bequests made by others in her honor: these include the portrait by Armand Thibault de Navarre from her nephew Paul Porter; the desk given by her lawyer, E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr.; a suit she wore in the 1970s from Mr. and Mrs. William Wilkins; and the painted wooden coffin in which she planned to be buried donated by Clark Dobson.