Willa Cather

     Willa Cather was born on December 7, 1875 in Back Creek Valley near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

      The Cather family moved to Webster County, Nebraska in 1883 to live with their grandparents and uncle. A year later they moved to Red Cloud, a nearby railroad town, where her father opened a loan and insurance office, neither of which were very profitable. Cather defied her mother's attempts to turn her into a "lady" by cutting her hair short and wearing trousers. In Red Cloud, Cather met Annie Sadilek, on whom she later based the character of Antonia in My Antonia.

      After Cather graduated from Red Cloud High School in 1890, she enrolled in the University of Nebraska. In 1892, she published the short story Peter in a Boston magazine. This story would later be incoporated into My Antonia. When she graduated in 1895, she returned to Red Cloud before becoming an editor of The Home Monthly in Pittsburgh.

      The short stories Cather wrote to fill in The Home Monthly's pages were published in a collection called the Troll Garden in 1905. Shortly after her stories were published, she joined McClure's Magazine in New York. While there, she met Sara Orne Jewett from Maine who encouraged her to write about her life in Nebraska. After five years with McClure's, Cather left to pursue her own writing.

      O Pioneers was published in 1913 and in 1917 Cather wrote My Antonia. In 1923 she won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours and her book A Lost Lady was published. Her novels were now focusing on the approach of modernism that was destroying the pioneering traditions of the West.

      Cather became depressed following her successes, but after her recovery she wrote some of her greatest novels: The Professor's House in 1925, My Mortal Enemy in 1926, and Death Comes for the Archbishop in 1927. She continued to write novels and short stories until her death on April 24, 1947, of a cerebral hemorrhage.

      A very private person, Cather requested that all her letters were to be burned when she died. Only a few have survived.

From My Antonia:

"I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more."

". . . the low sky was like a sheet of metal; the blond cornfields had faded out into ghostiliness at last; the little pond was frozen under its stiff willow bushes. Big white flakes were whirling over everything and disappearing in the red grass."
"I used to lie in my bed by the open window, watching the heat lightning play softly along the horizon, or looking up at the gaunt frame of the windmill against the blue night sky."
"On some upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The sun was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly contained within the circle of the disk; the handles, the tongue, the share--black against the molten red."
Cather, Willa. My Antonia. New York: Bantam. 1994.


Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,
Carl Van Vechten Collection