Nebraska Authors

Willa Sibert Cather

AKA: Pseudonyms: George Overing; Helen Delay; Elizabeth L. Seymour; Henry Nicklemann; Fanny Cadwallader.

Her birth name was 'Wilella', she was called 'Willie' by her parents.

Born 1873-12-07 near Winchester, VA (USA)

Died 1947-04-24
New York City, NY (USA)

Buried
Jaffrey, NH (USA)
Carte de visite of Willa Cather

Carte de visite of Willa Cather

Attribution: Heritage Room Archive

Willa Cather is considered one of Nebraska’s most distinguished writers. Cather was born on December 7, 1873 in Winchester, VA. When Willa was 9, her family moved to Nebraska, first to a ranch and then to the community of Red Cloud. It was there that her father purchased the local newspaper, The Republican Chief, and installed Willa (age 15) as the editor and business manager. The young Cather was a late witness to the final closing of the frontier on the Great Plains and to the lively and diverse European immigrant cultures of the new settlers. She gained a deep understanding of this historical moment that would greatly influence her as a writer.

At the age of 17, Cather moved to Lincoln, eventually to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While enrolled at UNL, Cather made a reputation as an eccentric — wearing her hair cut in a man’s fashion, and often wearing men’s clothing. In 1893, Cather began writing a column for the Lincoln Journal newspaper, and in 1894 she became the Journal‘s drama critic. At the same time, she was a regular contributor to the UNL magazines Hesperian and Lasso. After two years with the Lincoln Journal, Cather moved to a position as associate editor with the Lincoln Courier, a society, art and literary paper, where she remained until shortly after her 1895 graduation.

After graduation, Cather left Lincoln for Pittsburgh, where she worked for both the Pittsburgh Home Monthly and Pittsburgh Daily Leader until 1905. During this period, Cather made the first of several trips to Europe, and saw the publication of her first collection of stories. In 1906, she began working for McClure’s Magazine in New York City, first as editor then as managing editor. The advice of fellow writer Sarah Orne Jewett convinced Willa to dedicate more of her time to her own writing, and to creating her own literary voice. During the next two decades, many of Willa Cather’s great works of American literature saw print — often featuring settings and characters drawn from her Nebraska upbringing.

Though Cather never returned to Nebraska to live, Red Cloud considers her a native daughter, and the strong regional themes of many of her novels identify her as a Nebraska author. Cather died in New York on April 24, 1947. Cather's writing continues to attract a wide readership, as well as historical and critical interest and acclaim. The majority of Cather’s novels remain in print. She is one of the most important, and most admired, American writers of the first half of the twentieth century.

Many of Willa Cather’s shorter novels and short stories have been reprinted in a variety of collections — both under Cather’s own name, and in anthologies by a variety of authors. If you search the Lincoln City Libraries catalog for “Cather, Willa”, you will find all of the titles listed below — many in multiple different editions and/or languages — as well as numerous other “titles”, which are often individual short stories from her well-known collections that have subsequently been reprinted as stand-alone volumes.

Note that the Heritage Room retains the 1927 edition of Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs for its Cather connection. There is a small collection of Cather association books boxed in the Heritage Room with the Eiseley association books. There are several early photographs of Cather (original carte de viste type photographs) in our collection.

References:

See first of all the longer on-line biographical sketch by Cather scholar Andrew Jewell, part of the on-line Willa Cather Archive, one the foremost digital humanities projects in the United States, hosted by the University of Nebraska. The site can guide you to many other digitized materials including, for example, all of her short fiction pre-1912, various interviews, speeches, and public letters, her uncollected periodical nonfiction from the 1910s, and much else, including born digital Cather scholarship.

James Woodress, Willa Cather: A Literary Life, 1987, is considered the leading scholarly literary biography. (And Woodress's papers are in the UNL Archives and Special Collections Cather Collections, noted below.)

Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, ed. The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, 2013. The publication of these letters has been the largest Cather event of recent times.

Lucia Woods (with Bernice Slote), Willa Cather: A Pictorial Memoir (1973, 1986) pairs pictures with quotations from Cather.

The HR collection also holds biographies by Edith Lewis, Cather's companion, and by E. K. Brown, Mildred R. Bennett, Marion M. Brown, Dorothy T. McFarland, Phyllis C. Robinson, Elizabeth S. Sergeant, and Hermione Lee. Librarians have noted that they found the very short introduction to Cather's life in the Preface by Marilyn Arnold to the 1989 Ohio University edition of Willa Cather Living by Edith Lewis useful.

Archives (Listing only the most notable and local):

University of Nebraska Archives and Special Collections Cather Collections: In its 14 collections of Cather materials, this is the largest and most significant archive of Cather materials in the world. Just one of its constituent collections, the Roscoe and Meta Cather Collection, contains nearly 400 Cather letters. See the on-line guides to these collections

The Nebraska State Historical Society has a small Cather collection.

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia has a significant collection.

The Newberry Library in Chicago has Cather collections. This is notable for containing the Benjamin D. Hitz – Willa Cather Papers, 1913-1949 (with an on-line inventory). Hitz was a collector of Cather first editions and this collection contains his correspondence about editions with some of the leading booksellers of the day, as well as original Cather letters.

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Places Lived

Red Cloud, NE
Lincoln, NE
Winchester, VA
Pittsburgh, PA
New York, NY
Boston, MA
Jaffrey, NH

Author Of

  • Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Journalism
  • Nonfiction

Keywords

Novels; Short Stories; Magazine Articles; Literary Criticism

Education

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1895

Occupation

teacher
journalist
poet
novelist

Places Worked

The Lincoln Journal
The Lincoln Courier
The Pittsburgh Home Monthly
Pittsburgh Leader
Pittsburgh Central High School
McClure's Magazine

Honors

Nebraska 150 Books honor for My Ántonia, O Pioneers!, and One of Ours, 2017
“150 Notable Nebraskans”, Number 1 on the Journal Star Sesquicentennial List of Significant Nebraskans
Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours,1923
Medal of the American Academy for Death Comes for the Archbishop
Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame
O' Pioneers! selected as 2013 One Book One Nebraska

Associations

Associate Editor of the Lincoln Courier (1895)
Her father bought the Red Cloud Repubican and Willa was installed as the editor and business manager-- she conducted the paper for six months prior to entering the University of Nebraska.
She edited the college paper The Hesperian for a year and was managing editor for a year
Edith Lewis
Louise Pound
Alvin S. Johnson knew Cather as a student and later recruited her to serve on the board of The New School for Social Research

Bibliography

April Twilights. 1903.
The Troll Garden. 1905.
Alexander's Bridge. 1912.
O Pioneers!. 1913.
The Autobiography of S.S. McClure. 1914. (Cather was the ghostwriter)
The Song of the Lark. 1915.
My Ántonia. 1918.
Youth and the Bright Medusa. 1920.
One of Ours. 1922.
A Lost Lady. 1923.
The Fortunate Mistress. 1924. (Cather wrote the introduction to Daniel Defoe's edition)
The Professor's House. 1925.
My Mortal Enemy. 1926.
Death Comes for the Archbishop. 1927.
Shadows on the Rock. 1931.
Obscure Destinies. 1932.
Lucy Gayheart. 1935.
Not Under Forty. 1936.
Sapphira and the Slave Girl. 1940.
The Old Beauty and Others. 1948.
Willa Cather: On Writing. 1949.
Five Stories. 1956. (published posthumously)
The Selected Letters of Willa Cather. 2013. (edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout)

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