Willa Cather

Evelyn Funda

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Willa Cather

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Born in Virginia, Willa Cather (b. 1873–d. 1947) and her family moved to a homestead in Red Cloud, Nebraska, when she was nine. After a precocious childhood, she enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1890. Originally a pre-med major, Cather soon changed to an English major and began to regularly contribute theater and book reviews to the local newspaper. After graduating, she moved to Pittsburgh to edit a women’s magazine, in which many of her essays and early fiction appeared under pseudonyms. Later, after a stint teaching high school English, she took a job as managing editor for the muckraking McClure’s magazine in New York City and became the most powerful woman in magazine publishing at the time. There she met Edith Lewis, who would be her partner for nearly forty years. After five years at the magazine, during which she published a collection of poetry (April Twilights in 1903) and another of short stories (The Troll Garden in 1905), Cather devoted herself to writing full-time. Her first novel was Alexander’s Bridge (1912), a novel patterned after Henry James. However, Cather soon realized that she would have greater success writing about the kind of people she had grown up with on the Great Plains, and in 1913 she published O Pioneers!, which was about immigrant efforts to homestead in Nebraska. With this novel, Cather laid claim to the American West as a key setting for her fiction. Her next novel, the autobiographically influenced The Song of the Lark (1915), focused on the rise of an opera star from a provincial hometown that resembles Red Cloud. My Ántonia (1918), which was about a boy who meets a Bohemian immigrant girl in Nebraska, was a critical success. Her World War I novel One of Ours (1922) earned the Pulitzer Prize and began a decade of Cather’s greatest successes, including A Lost Lady (1923), and two novels that moved away from the Nebraska landscape for which Cather had become known. The Professor’s House (1925) and Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) were substantially set in the American Southwest. Later fiction moved farther afield. Shadows on the Rock (1930) is a pioneering story set in 17th-century Quebec, while Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940) portrays the final years of slavery in the Virginia valley where Cather had been born. By the time she died in New York City in 1947, Cather had published a total of twelve novels, three short-stories collections, a poetry collection, a collection of nonfiction essays, and two other nonfiction books that she ghostwrote (the biography of Mary Baker Eddy and the autobiography of her former boss, Sam McClure).

Article.  7754 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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