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Willa Cather


Cather was actually born in Virginia (near Winchester) in 1873 but moved to the Nebraska Divide with her family when she was nine years old. She soon adapted to the prairie landscape, which would feature so strongly in her writings. When a teenager she became interested in science; she also cut her hair short and adopted the name of William Cather. She attended the University of Nebraska, where she started writing. She started getting published – essays, short stories and poems. After expressing her love for a woman friend, she started to let her hair grow and abandoned masculine dress. After graduation, she stayed in Nebraska and continued her writing. However, when she was refused a teaching position, she moved to Pittsburgh, where she got a job as editor of a women’s magazine. When the magazine changed hands, she left her post but continued to write for the magazine as well as for other magazines.

She continued to have some success in writing criticism, short stories and plays. She went to work for McClure’s Magazine and eventually became managing editor. Her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, published as Alexander’s Masquerade appeared in McClure’s in 1912 and was followed by O Pioneers! the next year. She continued to publish novels, generally to critical and commercial acclaim, (though this was sometimes muted by attacks on her for being too romantic and escapist) despite suffering from a variety of illnesses throughout her life. She died in 1947.

Her work is strongly influenced by the landscape of Nebraska where she grew up. Not only is the landscape an integral part of her writing, her main characters are clearly moulded by it. These characters are generally tough, hardened by the difficult conditions under which they have grown up, pioneers. But her main characters have more than this; they have an indomitable spirit which enables them to stand above the people around them, whether as an artist like Thea Kronborg or as a woman of spirit who can rise above the ordinariness around her like Alexandra Bergson or Ántonia Shimerda.

Was Cather a Lesbian? It is now fashionable to say so and she has been adopted by the gay movement. She clearly had strong feelings for other women such as Isabelle McClung and Louise Pound and lived with Edith Lewis for a long time. Though she did have male friends, she is not known to have had any romantic attachments with men. Others have said that she sacrificed marriage and family for her art and there is some evidence for that, too. Whatever her sexual inclinations, she remains one of the United States’s foremost writers.

Books about Willa Cather

Mildred R. Bennett: The World of Willa Cather
Barbara Bonham: Willa Cather
E. K Brown: Willa Cather, a Critical Biography
Marion Marsh: Willa Cather, the Woman and her Works
Philip L. Brown Gerber: Willa Cather
Hermione Lee: Willa Cather: Double Lives
Phyllis C. Robinson: Willa, the Life of Willa Cather
Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant: Willa Cather: A Memoir
Susie Thomas: Willa Cather (Women Writers series)
Laura Winters: Willa Cather: Landscape and Exile
James Woodress: Willa Cather: A Literary Life (the standard biography)

Other links

Willa Cather
Willa Cather
Willa Cather
Willa Cather
American pastoral (article by A S Byatt on Willa Cather)
The Willa Cather Archive
The Willa Cather Foundation
LOST! A Lady. FOUND! An Artist (article on Cather by Malcolm Cowley from 1926)
And Death Comes for Willa Cather, Famous Author (Obituary from Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 25 April 1947)


1903 April twilights (poetry)
1905 The Troll Garden (stories)
1909 The life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the history of Christian Science
1912 Alexander’s bridge (novel)
1913 O Pioneers! (novel)
1914 S S McClure: My Autobiography (ghostwritten by Cather)
1915 The Song of the Lark (novel)
1918 My Ántonia (novel)
1920 Youth and the Bright Medusa (stories)
1922 One of Ours (novel)
1923 A Lost Lady (novel)
1925 The Professor’s House (novel)
1926 My Mortal Enemy (novella)
1927 Death Comes for the Archbishop (novel)
1931 Shadows on the Rock (novel)
1932 Obscure Destinies (stories)
1935 Lucy Gayheart (novella)
1936 Not under Forty (essays)
1940 Sapphira and the Slave Girl (novel)
1948 The Old Beauty and Others (stories)
1949 On Writing; Critical Studies on Writing as an Art
1950 Writings from Willa Cather’s Campus Years
1956 Five stories
1956 Willa Cather in Europe; Her Own Story of the First Journey
1957 Early stories
1966 Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First Principles and Critical Statements
1970 Collected Short Fiction, 1892-1912
1970 The World and the Parish; Willa Cather’s Articles and Reviews, 1893-1902
1973 Uncle Valentine and Other Stories; Willa Cather’s Uncollected Short Fiction, 1915-1929
1987 Early Novels and Stories (Library of America) (contains The Troll Garden; O Pioneers!; The Song of the Lark; My Antonia; One of Ours)
1989 The short stories of Willa Cather
1990 Later Novels (Library of America) (contains A Lost Lady; The Professor’s House; Death Comes for the Archbishop; Shadows on the Rock; Lucy Gayheart; Sapphira and the Slave Girl)
1992 Stories, Poems, and Other Writings (Library of America) (contains Uncollected Stories (1892-1929); Alexander’s bridge; Youth and the Bright Medusa; My Mortal Enemy; Obscure Destinies; The Old Beauty and Others; April Twilights, and Other Poems; Not Under Forty; Selected Reviews and Essays (1895-1940))