Willa Sibert Cather

Willa Sibert Cather books and biography


Willa Cather


Willa Cather photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1936
Willa Cather photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1936

Wilella Sibert Cather (December 7, 1873[1] – April 24, 1947) is among the most eminent American authors. She is known for her depictions of US life in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop.


Early life

Willa Cather was born on a farm in Back Creek Valley (near Winchester, Virginia. Her father was Charles Fectigue Cather (d. 1928), whose family had lived on land in the valley for six generations. Her mother was born Mary Virginia Boak (d. 1931), and she had six younger children: Roscoe, Douglass, Jessica, James, John, and Elsie.[2] In 1883, Cather moved with her family to Catherton in Webster County, Nebraska. The following year the family relocated to Red Cloud, the county seat. There, she spent the rest of her childhood in the same town that has been made famous by her writing. She insisted on attending college[citation needed], so her family borrowed money so she could enroll at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. On her first day she dressed as her "twin" brother William Cather. While there, she became a regular contributor to the Nebraska State Journal.

She then moved to Pittsburgh, where she taught high school English and worked for Home Monthly, and eventually got a job offer from McClure's Magazine in New York City. The latter publication serialized her first novel, Alexander's Bridge, which was heavily influenced by Henry James.

Cather was born into the Baptist faith but converted to Episcopalianism in 1922, having begun to attend Sunday services in the church as early as 1906.[3]

Cather insisted on being referred to as William from a very early age.[citation needed]

Writing career

Cather moved to New York City in 1906 in order to join the editorial staff of McClure's and later became the managing editor (1908). As a muckraking journalist, she coauthored a powerful and highly critical biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. It was serialized in McClure's in 1907-8 and published as a book the next year. Christian Scientists were outraged and tried to buy every copy; it was reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1993.

She met author Sarah Orne Jewett, who advised Cather to rely less on the influence of James and more on her native Nebraska. For her novels she returned to the prairie for inspiration, and these works became popular and critical successes. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of Ours (1922).

She was celebrated by critics like H.L. Mencken for writing about ordinary people in plainspoken language. When he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Sinclair Lewis said Cather should have won it instead. However, later critics tended to favor more experimental authors and attacked Cather, a political conservative, for ignoring the actual plight of ordinary people.

In 1973, Willa Cather was honored by the United States Postal Service with her image on a postage stamp. Cather is a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame. In 1986, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. She was a close companion to opera singer Olive Fremstad.

Personal life

Cather taught English in a Pittsburgh high school from 1901 to 1906. This coincided, in part, with what some claim to be her 12-year lesbian relationship with Isabella McClung. The claim postulates that by concealing her relationships with the women she allegedly loved (including Louise Pound, McClung, and Edith Lewis, the latter of whom was her companion and shared an apartment with her in Greenwich Village for 40 years), Cather also concealed the ways in which these women possibly contributed to and nourished her creative writing abilities. [1]

Cather died in 1947 in New York, in the apartment she shared with Lewis, and is buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. At the time of her death, she ordered her personal letters burned.


  • From 1913 to 1927, she lived at No. 5 Bank Street in Greenwich Village, until the apartment was torn down during the construction of the Seventh Avenue subway line.[4]
  • After reading her cousin G.P. Cather's wartime letters home to his mother, wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning "One of Ours". He was Nebraska's first officer killed in World War I.
  • Cather and Pound residence halls at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) are named after Willa Cather and Louise Pound. [2]

Personal quotes

  • "Youth is the source of power and creativity."
  • "That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great."
  • "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."


  1. ^ Woodress, James Leslie. Willa Cather: A Literary Life, University of Nebraska Press, Omaha, 1987, p. 516. Cather's birth date is confirmed by a birth certificate and a 22 January 1874 letter of her father's referring to her. While working at McClure's Magazine, Cather claimed to be born in 1875. After 1920 she claimed 1876 as her birth year, and that is the date carved into her grave in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.
  2. ^ Lewis, Edith. Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record, pp. 5-7. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1953.
  3. ^ Acocella, Joan. Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism, p. 84. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2000.
  4. ^ Bunyan, Patrick. All Around the Town: Amazing Manhattan Facts and Curiosities, p. 66. Fordham University Press, New York, 1999.



  • Willa Cather and Georgine Milmine The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science (1909) (reprinted U of Nebraska Press, 1993)
  • Willa Cather On Writing (1949) (reprint U of Nebraska Press, 1988)


  • Alexander's Bridge (1912)
  • O Pioneers! (1913)
  • The Song of the Lark (1915)
  • My Ántonia (1918)
  • One of Ours (1922)
  • A Lost Lady (1923)
  • The Professor's House (1925)
  • My Mortal Enemy (1926)
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
  • Shadows on the Rock (1931)
  • Lucy Gayheart (1935)
  • Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940)


  • Early Novels and Stories, Sharon O'Brien, ed. (New York: The Library of America, 1987) ISBN 0-940450-39-9. Includes The Troll Garden (stories), O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, My Antonia, and One of Ours.
  • Later Novels, Sharon O'Brien, ed. (New York: The Library of America,1990) ISBN 0-940450-52-6. Includes A Lost Lady, The Professor's House, Death Comes for the Archbishop, Shadows on the Rock, Lucy Gayheart, and Sapphira and the Slave Girl.
  • Stories, Poems, and Other Writings, Sharon O'Brien, ed. (New York: The Library of America, 1992) ISBN 0-940450-71-2. Includes Youth and the Bright Medusa, Obscure Destinies, The Old Beauty and Others (stories), Alexander's Bridge and My Mortal Enemy (novellas) with essays, occasional pieces, and poetry.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Alexander's Bridge

My Antonia

By Willa Sibert Cather

My Antonia
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O Pioneers

By Willa Sibert Cather

O Pioneers
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One Of Ours

By Willa Sibert Cather

One Of Ours
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Paul Case

By Willa Sibert Cather
Short Stories

Paul Case
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Professor's House

Song Of The Lark

The Troll Garden And Selected Stories

Youth And The Bright Medusa

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