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ISSUE 119 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/10/2006

Titus wins acclaim for nonfiction work

By Rob Martin
Arts Editor

Friday, March 10, 2006

In between sessions of the American Conversation and English 222, Associate Professor of English Mary Titus put the finishing touches on her nonfiction work, “The Ambivalent Art of Katherine Ann Porter.”

With the glue on the book's binding barely dry, the Minnesota Humanities Commission has nominated her book for a Minnesota Book Award.

Porter, who died in 1980 at the age of 90, was famous for her short stories and known to many as a Southern-belle, the great-grandaughter of Daniel Boone.

Titus hopes her book will shed some new light on the reality of Porter’s life. Titus said,“She was actually Callie Porter from west Texas and not related to Boone.”

While a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Titus became intrigued with Porter. During this time a large collection of Porter's writings were released by the University of Maryland, College Park, for researchers to study.

“I went down to sift through the heaps and messy files and was amazed,” Titus said. “She wrote really intimate things on little pieces of paper and never threw them away.” In light of this research, Titus decided to write her dissertation on Porter's short story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.”

Twenty years later, Titus has kept the study of Porter as a pet project, a hobby that can now be celebrated with the publication of her book. Although Porter has been dead for more than 25 years, this work marks an important contribution not only to Porter scholarship but also towards understanding gender in literary history.

“[This book] comes out of a re-evaluation of women's writing,” Titus said. “Around the time of Porter's death gender became an important category. Now we have to reinvent literary and intellectual history.”

Although Porter's fame came primarily from her stories of the South, Titus believes the public and even the late Porter began to believe a story of her life that was untrue.

“I wanted to change the story of her Southerness to the story of her brilliance as a writer,” Titus said. During the 1950s and 1960s Titus believes Porter stopped thinking and began performing as the image the media created of her.

Believing the book would be most widely read and appreciated by other Porter scholars, Titus was surprised and honored by her nomination for the Minnesota Book Award.

“They don't normally nominate this type of scholarly work. It must mean that on a basic level my book is very accessible,” Titus said.

She hopes that scholars of women writers and lovers of poetry will also be interested in her writing. “[The book] shows a revisionary view of Porter,” Titus said. “I also hope teachers will read it and stop teaching the same things.”

The 18th Annual Minnesota Books Awards will be held on April 29 at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis. Titus will have to wait until then to find out of she has won. She has some famous competition as well.

Also up for an award in the category of nonfiction is Ralph Nader's vice-presidential candidate in the 1996 and 2000 elections, Winona LaDuke, for her book, “Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming.” “I'm not too worried about it,” Titus said. “But if I win my mother will be absolutely thrilled.”

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