“The qualities of a second-rate writer can easily be defined, but a first-rate writer can only be experienced.”
—Willa Cather, Not Under Forty
Born this day in 1873: Willa Cather (1873–1947), one of America’s great writers, known for her lyricism, evocation of place, and frontier themes
Willa Cather was born in Virginia, but her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine. This move to the frontier during her formative years would inform her later writing.
Cather began publishing short stories while attending the University of Nebraska. She was also a copyeditor and drama critic for the Nebraska State Journal. After graduating, she moved to Pittsburg, PA, working as both a journalist and a teacher. One of her short stories caught the eye of McClure’s Magazine. She joined McClure’s in 1906 and became its managing editor in 1909. In 1911 she gave up the magazine to devote herself to novel-writing full time.
She hit her stride as a writer with O, Pioneers! (1913), a story set on the Nebraska frontier. O, Pioneers! was followed by Song of the Lark (1915), a story of artistic awakening. Many critics consider My Ántonia (1918), the third novel in what is known as her “prairie trilology,” as her finest work. Also set on the Nebraska frontier, My Ántonia is a story of Bohemian immigrants and the particular experience of pioneer women. In 1923 Cather won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel One of Ours, in which the protagonist tries to escape the narrow confines of the wide-open prairie. Set during World War I, it was also a best-seller.
Cather’s works include twelve novels, four collections of short stories, a collection of verse, and a collection of essays.
Visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Willa Cather Archive to read her works for free!
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