Willa Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in Back Creek, Virginia. She was an American author, writer and teacher. Cather was noted for her books about immigrants and their struggle to make a living in the Midwest during the 1800’s.She became famously known for her works in My Antonia, O Pioneers!, and The Song of the Lark.When Cather was nine year old, her family relocated from Virginia to Nebraska. She spent the majority of her child life there. The small town Red Cloud was mostly an immigrant town with more “foreigners” than “Americans.” Since Cather wrote novels about individuals and immigrant groups who had not been written about before, people will find her characters “individualized” and true-to-life. At first, Cather did not like the small rural town, but became to love all the land and people around her, this eventually became some of the many inspirations of her books.
“I was little and homesick and lonely…So the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn the shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion that I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and curse of my life.”
In the quote, Cather describes her loneliness as a child. She quickly recalls it being a time in her life where she was sad and “homesick”, but later realizes how the meadows of Nebraska changed her life forever.
After, graduating from Red Cloud High School in 1890, she went on to continue her education at the University of Nebraska. But Cather’s passion wasn’t always writing. At first she wanted to study medicine, however when one of her stories was published in the school newspaper, she developed a great adoration for literature. In college, Willa spent time editing the school magazine and publishing articles and play reviews in the local papers. In 1892 she published her short story “Peter” in a Boston magazine, a story that later became part of her novel My Antonia. After graduating in 1895, she returned to Red Cloud where she was offered a position editing Home Monthly in Pittsburgh.
From about, 1901-1906 Cather went on to become a High School teacher. She latter received a job working for one of New York’s finest magazines, McClure’s Magazine. There she became the managing editor. After working as a journalist in New York, she published one of her most famous novels O Pioneers! The novel tells the story of a Swedish immigrant family. After the main character, a young girl inherits the farmland after her father passes; she is devoted to making the farm a reasonable and workable place for prairie families to live. In 1912, Cather relinquished her editorial duties at McClure’s, and stared traveling and writing full time.
Her travels set an inspiration for one of her novels, The Song of the Lark. There a theme of journey appeared. In the novel, a young girl leaves her small rural town in pursuit of becoming a famous opera singer. My Antonia, a story about her life in Nebraska, was a tale about land and immigrant pioneers.
Willa Cather once said, “she understood the coming change between cultures, she saw immigrant children moving away from the culture of their parents and into a kind of uneasy Americanism”
John Giangrasso, 25, says “nowadays some kids get caught up in “materialistic” objects and really forget where they come from, but always find their way back”
My Antonia is among Cather’s finest work, but according to A negative review of Willa Cather: Writing at the Frontier by Alice Hall Petry critics point out that her male characters often have female attitudes and interests. From an early age, Cather was troubled by her sexual identity. She preferred to dress in men’s clothing and as a teenager she began signing her name William Cather, Jr. Cather also was active in community theater productions and often took male roles. In My Antonia the main character Jim Burden grows up with a fear of sex and only in fantasy he allows a half-naked woman to smother him with kisses. The original of Antonia was Annie Pavelka, who Cather met as a child and maintained a lifelong friendship.
Willa Cather’s literary heritage is a complex one. She is most well known for her subject matter. It was new in early American literature to write about the immigrants who arrived in the United States. However, there is a uniquely American tradition of writing that Cather succeeds to. According to Willa Cather: A Literary Life by James Woodress, he terms Cathers literature as a form of “regionalism in contemporary literary criticism.” Regionalism is a kind of fiction that pays close attention to place, especially the land, in the lives of characters.
Cather thought of her fiction as doing something new, but doing it out of the materials of the past. She is definitely known as a part of the “legacy of past writers” as her influences in her fiction writing.
Cather is most known for her novels, but she was a short story craftsperson as well. One of her more popular story is Old Mrs. Harris, it was told to be her best. Among her collections of short stories are Youth and the Bright Medusa and Obscure Destinies.
Willa Cather stated in her later years about Nebraska: “that country was the happiness and the curse”of her life. She admired the pioneers who struggled to make a better life for themselves and their families. She loved the trees and the wildflowers, especially the sunflowers along the roads which she wrote always “seemed the roads to freedom.” She also believed that the tree’s lives were connected with pioneers and that no place in the world grew more beautiful flowers than Nebraska. Which is why many people say Cathers work as a literary author was simplistic, romantic, and all-in-all very natural.
According to sources, Willa Cather was a life-long lesbian, although she hid it for many years. Cather’s closest relationship was with her lifetime companion, an editor by the name of Edith Lewis. The two lived together in Greenwich Village for forty years, until their deaths. They arranged to be buried together when they died.
All in all, readers can now get a sense of how Cather dedicated herself to writing, and the struggle she went through, just to hide her sexual identity. She had a lifelong passion for writing. Her literature is definately well respected for its naturalistic and simple demeanor.
Bennett, Mildred R. The World of Willa Cather. New York: Dodd Mead, and Co., 1951.
Woodress, James Willa Cather: A Literary Life. U of Nebraska Press, 1989.
A negative review of Willa Cather: Writing at the Frontier. Alice Hall Petry.
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