Katherine Anne Porter in VQR
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Toward the end of 1934, VQR editor Lambert Davis began assembling a roster of prominent Southern writers to contribute essays, short stories, and poems to the tenth anniversary issue of the journal focused exclusively on “Southern letters.” Among the most coveted names on his list was Katherine Anne Porter, a native Texan and author of the acclaimed short fiction collection Flowering Judas. By 1935, Porter had become a regular contributor to VQR, and was just beginning to make a name for herself in the larger literary community. Her first essay, “Hacienda,” appeared in October of 1932, followed by her first story, “That Tree,” in July of 1934. A few months later, Porter’s publisher sent VQR fifty pages, titled “Midway of This Mortal Life,” the second part of her long, autobiographical novel-in-progress, Many Redeemers. Davis chose two Southern-themed stories, “Uncle Jimbilly” (later retitled “The Witness”) and “The Last Leaf,” for the Winter 1935 issue, and published them both under the heading “Two Plantation Portraits.” The two stories filled what Davis called a “gaping hole” in that issue, but left both writer and editor searching for an appropriate theme to bring to the anniversary issue that spring.
In December of 1934, Porter wrote that her short stories were growing too long to publish in a journal and that she much preferred “these fragments from ‘Midway of This Mortal Life’ to anything I have done lately.” So Davis returned to the manuscript and found another publishable section, “The Grave,” though he expressed some reservation about how it would read out of context. Ms. Porter, concerned that she might be left out of the anniversary issue entirely, wrote back in January, 1935: