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The list of Porter’s correspondents reads like a Who’s Who of twentieth-century letters: Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Eleanor Clark, James Stern, Cleanth Brooks, Malcolm Cowley, Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Josephine Herbst, Hart Crane, Monroe Wheeler, Glenway Wescott, Eudora Welty, John Malcolm Brinnin. She tells Edith Sitwel she treasures her anthology of poetry as “something to take to Heaven with me if I ever get there; or maybe to bootleg into Hell to soften the penalty of having to read the Beat Generation.” In a 1935 letter to Robert Penn Warren, one of her closest friends, she writes, “I have on hand, trying to finish it, a fairly long story which I call ‘Pale Horse and Pale Rider’ though I may find another title. What are your limits as to space for a short story?” For Porter her letters—to friends, family, publishers, editors, lovers—were vital links between the past and the present, a validation of time spent and an inspiration for the future: her twelve-page ship’s journal, written in the form of a letter on a voyage from Mexico to Germany in 1931, became the basis for Ship of Fools, completed thirty years later.
Katherine Anne Porter saw letters as continuity, a story that no longer belonged to the teller: “. . . mss. and notes and journals and letters arrived from Saratoga Springs the other day, and reading some of it over I find the past much more continuous, which I had begun to doubt. . . . Things just accumulated, and behold, it had become history . . . to be sorted and used as part of a story. I don’t know that story any more than you do, especially not the end, and we will never see it, and I think it not very important whether we do or don’t. . . . It doesn’t belong to us anyway.”
Porter left behind thousands of letters from which Isabel Bailery, Porter's close friend, selected the best.