Porter was born on May 8, 1930, on the Southside of St. John’s, Newfoundland. She is the eldest child of Robert Fogwill and Evelyn Horwood. She grew up on the Southside of town and was educated at Holloway School and Prince of Wales College, St. John’s. Following her graduation and a business course from Prince of Wales College, she worked as a shorthand typist with the Department of Justice.
Porter began writing in 1962, but not until 1973 did she devote her full-time to writing. In 1953 she married John Porter; the couple had four children. John Porter died in 1983.
Porter is a member of the Writers Union of Canada and a board member of the Writers Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador (WANL). She still resides in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Porter first became serious about writing in 1962. In 1963 she began having articles, reviews, short stories and poetry published in a variety of magazines; some of these being Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Star Weekly and Saturday Night. Her works were then further published in the Quill and Quire, Fiddlehead, the Antigonish Review and the Journal of Canadian Fiction. At the beginning of her writing life Porter based most of her stories out of England, Scotland or the U.S. because she believed that nobody would be interested in reading about stories based in Newfoundland. By 1973, Porter’s short stories, articles, poems, plays and reviews were published throughout Canada and abroad. In the year 1977 she collaborated with Bernice Morgan and Geraldine Rubia on writing "From this Place", an anthology from women writers of Newfoundland and Labrador. Porter’s Below the Bridge was published in 1979 which was a story about her childhood growing up on the south side of St. John’s. Also, her first novel, January, February, June or July (1988), won the Young Adult Canadian Book Award from the Canadian Library Association in 1989. Helen was also a member of the Newfoundland Writer’s Guild.
Porter taught creative writing with Memorial University Extension Arts from 1976-1990 and with the division of Continuing Studies from 1991. Porter gave a great deal of time to numerous voluntary agencies and associations, and worked with the Visiting Artists' Program of the Newfoundland Teachers' Association. Working with the Visiting Artists' Program involved spending several weeks each year visiting schools in Newfoundland where she hoped to impart to school children a sense of their own literature. Porter was highly involved with the "Metro Verse" project. This was a project that put pieces of poetry on the inside of metro public transit buses to give people something to read rather than just commercial advertisements. This project lead her to get involved with a similar one in Alberta called "Take the Poetry Route" that put pieces of poetry inside buses in Edmonton, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, and Medicine Hat.
Porter has a passion for equality. Her passion pursued her to lead the women's movement in the mid-1900s. As well, she is a founding member of the Newfoundland Status of Women Council. In the decade between 1975 and 1985, Porter ran for election as a New Democratic Party representative four times. She ran as a representative for the Mount Pearl area of St. John's, Newfoundland. Her goals were to get the economy back on track and to gain equality for women. Porter has been described as "an outstanding candidate with an enormous commitment to her community". Her audience also stated that: "Helen Porter will fight for real change for the benefit of all Newfoundlanders."
Porter received numerous awards during her years of writing. Several of her works were honored with awards in the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Competitions throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Her first novel, “January, February, June or July” published in 1988, won the Young Adult Canadian Book Award from the Canadian Library Association in 1989. Porter also received the year’s lifetime achievement award for her length of time as a leading figure in the guild. She said that the award honored the guild as much as it did herself. Porter also received the Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. She was awarded the Order of Canada with the grade of member in December 2015.
In March 2003, the New Democratic Party of Newfoundland and Labrador launched a fund in the name of Helen Porter. The fund aids women who are seeking to run as an NDP representative. The fund assists women at the provincial level in general and by elections. The financial assistance provides child care, campaign costs and household assistance. The Helen Fogwill Porter Fund will also support conferences where female candidates can meet with each other. At these conferences, the candidates may exchange their own ideas with each other and offer support. Nancy Riche stated, "The province needs more women in the legislature. If Helen had won in one of the elections in which she ran, she would have made more than a difference. She would have changed the political landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador." From this Place- with Bernice Morgan and Geraldine Rubia (1977; ISBN 0-920502-02-4)
Below the Bridge (1980; ISBN 0-919948-72-3)
January, February, June or July (1988; ISBN 0-920911-27-7)
A Long and Lonely Ride (1991; ISBN 1-55081-011-1)
Finishing School (2007; ISBN 978-1-895900-88-0)
They Do It Every Summer (1954)
The Children Are Gone (1979)
To My Son
For Every Man an Island (1982; ISBN 0-919519-09-1)
The Five- Dollar Bet (1969)