Willa Cather

Willa Cather

Infobox Writer
name = Willa Sibert Cather

imagesize = 200px
caption = Cather in 1936.
pseudonym =
birthdate = December 7, 1873
birthplace = near Winchester, Virginia, United States
deathdate = April 24, 1947
deathplace = New York City, New York, United States
occupation = Novelist
nationality = American
period = 1912-1947
genre =
subject =
movement =
influences =
influenced =

website =

Willa Sibert Cather (December 7, 1873 [Woodress, James Leslie. "Willa Cather: A Literary Life", University of Nebraska Press, Omaha, 1987, p. 516. Cather's birth date is confirmed by a birth certificate and a 22 January 1874 letter of her father's referring to her. While working at "McClure's Magazine", Cather claimed to be born in 1875. After 1920 she claimed 1876 as her birth year. That is the date carved into her gravestone at Jaffrey, New Hampshire.] – April 24, 1947) was an American author who grew up in Nebraska. She is best known for her depictions of frontier life on the Great Plains in novels such as "O Pioneers!", "My Ántonia", and "Death Comes for the Archbishop".

Early life

Willa Cather was born in 1873 on a small farm in the Back Creek valley near Winchester, Virginia. Her father was Charles Fectigue Cather (d. 1928), whose family had lived on land in the valley for six generations. Her mother was born Mary Virginia Boak (d. 1931). Mary had six more children after Willa: Roscoe, Douglass, Jessica, James, John, and Elsie. [Lewis, Edith. "Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record", pp. 5-7. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1953.] In 1883, Cather moved with her family to Catherton in Webster County, Nebraska. The following year the family relocated to Red Cloud, the county seat. Cather spent the rest of her childhood in the town which she later made famous by her writing career. Willa Cather insisted on attending college, so her family borrowed money for her to enroll at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

While in college, Cather became a regular contributor to the "Nebraska State Journal". Cather then moved to Pittsburgh, where she taught high school English and worked for "Home Monthly". After receiving a job offer from "McClure's Magazine", she moved to New York City for her career. "McClure's Magazine" serialized her first novel, "Alexander's Bridge", a work heavily influenced by her admiration for the style of Henry James.

Cather was born into a Baptist family, but in 1922 she was formally received into the Episcopal Church. After moving to New York, she had begun to attend Sunday services in the Episcopal Church as early as 1906. [Acocella, Joan. "Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism", p. 84. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2000.]

Writing career

Cather moved to New York City in 1906 to join the editorial staff of "McClure's" and in 1908 was promoted to managing editor. As a journalist, she co-authored a critical biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. It was serialized in "McClure's" in 1907-8 and published the next year as a book. Christian Scientists were outraged and tried to buy every copy.Fact|date=February 2008 The work was reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1993.

In New York Cather met a variety of authors. Sarah Orne Jewett advised her to rely less on the influence of Henry James and more on her own experiences in Nebraska. For her novels Cather returned to the prairie for inspiration and also drew on her experiences in France. These works became both popular and critical successes.

In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for "One of Ours", published in 1922. This work had been inspired by reading her cousin G.P. Cather's wartime letters home to his mother. He was the first officer from Nebraska killed in World War I. Those letters are now held in the George Cather Ray Collection at the [http://www.unl.edu/libr/libs/spec/ University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries] .

Cather was celebrated by critics like H.L. Mencken for writing in plainspoken language about ordinary people. When novelist Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature, he paid homage to her by saying that Cather should have won the honor.

Later critics tended to favor more experimental authors. In times of political activism some attacked Cather, a political conservative, for writing about conditions of ordinary people, rather than working to change them.


Cather received both national and state honors. In 1973, the United States Postal Service honored Willa Cather by using her image on a postage stamp. In 1981 the US Mint created the Willa Cather medallion, a half-ounce gold coin. Cather was elected to the Nebraska Hall of Fame. In 1986, Cather was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Her alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, named residence halls after both Cather and her college friend Louise Pound. Pound had a lifelong career as professor of English at the university and was the first woman president of the Modern Language Association. [ [http://housing.unl.edu/halls/cather.shtml Cather and Pound Halls, University of Nebraska-Lincoln] ]

Personal life

As a student at the University of Nebraska in the early 1890s, Cather sometimes used the masculine nickname "William" and wore masculine clothes. O'Brien, Sharon. Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice. New York: Oxford, 1987. pp. 96-113.] A photograph in the University of Nebraska archives depicts Cather, "her hair shingled, at a time when long hair was fashionable, and dressed boyishly." [Lewis, Edith. Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record, p. 38. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1953.]

Throughout Cather's adult life, her most significant relationships were with women. These included her college friend Louise Pound; the Pittsburgh socialite Isabelle McClung, with whom Cather traveled to Europe; opera singer Olive Fremstad; and most notably, the editor Edith Lewis.

Cather's romance with Lewis began in the early 1900s. The two women lived together in a series of apartments in New York City from 1912 until the writer's death in 1947. From 1913 to 1927, Cather and Lewis had lived at No. 5 Bank Street in Greenwich Village. They had to move as the apartment was to be taken down during construction of the Seventh Avenue subway line. [Bunyan, Patrick. "All Around the Town: Amazing Manhattan Facts and Curiosities", p. 66. Fordham University Press, New York, 1999.] Lewis served as the literary trustee for the Cather estate. ["Cather's Life: Chronology." The Willa Cather Archive, University of Nebraska. 21 March 2007 (http://cather.unl.edu)]

In her later life, Cather spent summers on Grand Manan Island, in New Brunswick, Canada, in the Bay of Fundy, where she owned a cottage in Whale Cove. [Ahern, Amy, "Willa Cather: Longer Biographical Sketch." The Willa Cather Archive, University of Nebraska. 21 March 2007 (http://cather.unl.edu).]

Cather is buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

A resolutely private person, Cather destroyed many old drafts, personal papers, and letters. Her will restricted the ability of scholars to quote from those personal papers that remain. Since the 1980s, feminist and other academic writers have explored Cather's sexual orientation and the influence of her female friendships on her work. [Ahern, Amy, "Willa Cather: Longer Biographical Sketch." The Willa Cather Archive, University of Nebraska. 21 March 2007 (http://cather.unl.edu).]

Cather received many honorary degrees, beginning with a doctorate from the University of Nebraska in 1917. She also received degrees from University of Michigan, Columbia, Yale, California at Berkely, Princeton, (the first to receive an honorary degree)and Smith College. [http://www.willacather.org/aboutcather_time.html]



* Willa Cather and Georgine Milmine "The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science" (1909) (reprinted U of Nebraska Press, 1993)
* Willa Cather "On Writing" (1949) (reprint U Nebraska Press, 1988)
*"Not Under Forty" (essays) 1936


*"Alexander's Bridge" (1912)
*"O Pioneers!" (1913)
*"The Song of the Lark" (1915)
*"My Ántonia" (1918)
*"One of Ours" (1922)
*"A Lost Lady" (1923)
*"The Professor's House" (1925)
*"My Mortal Enemy" (1926)
*"Death Comes for the Archbishop" (1927)
*"Shadows on the Rock" (1931)
*"Lucy Gayheart" (1935)
*"Sapphira and the Slave Girl" (1940)


*"April Twilights" (poetry) 1903
*"The Troll Garden" (short stories) 1905
*"Youth and the Bright Medusa" (short stories) 1920
*"Obscure Destinies" (three stories) 1932
*"The Old Beauty" (three stories) 1948

This does not include recent collections of early stories which were originally published in periodicals. [cite web|url=http://cather.unl.edu/life/chronology.html
title=Cather's Life: Chronology
work=The Willa Cather Archive
] [cite web|url=http://cather.unl.edu/writings/shortfiction/index.html
title=Cather's Writings: Short Fiction
work=The Willa Cather Archive


External links

* [http://cather.unl.edu Willa Cather Archive] at University of Nebraska-Lincoln
* [http://willacather.org/ Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation] in Red Cloud, Nebraska
* [http://www.nebraskahistory.org/lib-arch/research/manuscripts/family/cather.htm Willa Cather papers] at Nebraska State Historical Society
* [http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/On-the-Divide,673971.aspx On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather] by David Porter (University of Nebraska Press, 2008)

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