Willa Cather was an American novelist raised in Nebraska. Her most famous works deal with homesteading and life on the prairies. She is best known for O Pioneers, My Antonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. When Sinclair Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930 he mentioned that Willa Cather should have won it well before him for My Antonia.
Life and Works
Cather was born December 7, 1873, in Winchester, Virginia. When she was young, her family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska, where she was raised, and she would later use the town as a famous setting for her writing. She disliked it at first, but soon developed a passion for the land, as part of the 43% of Nebraskans who were immigrants. She moved to Lincoln to attend Nebraska University, initially to study science and medicine, but an essay on Thomas Carlyle written in preparatory study made her realize her passion for writing, and she took up work with the school newspaper. She was a sharp writer on campus, but sharper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she began serious journalism, before she taught in Allegheny, met Isabelle McClung, and traveled to France, while enabled her to write April Twilight (1903), poetry, and The Troll Garden (1905), short stories. She also wrote a few poorer novels resembling the work of Edith Wharton and Henry James.
She found her talent in O Pioneers, the story of the daughter of Swedish settlers, who devotes herself to the new land and her brother's well-being. She described in O Pioneers (1913), Song of the Lark (1915), and her greatest work, My Antonia (1919) the hardship of pioneer life as it could never be retold by old daguerrotypes of antiquated farm equipment. Her Song of the Lark described a small-town artist based on a real-life soprano. She continued her writing in her Pulitzer Prize winner One of Ours (1922), A Lost Lady (1923), and The Professor's House (1925). Her 1927 Death Comes for the Archbishop invoked life in the Southwest, and in 1931 continued her historical theme with Shadows on the Rock, by which point her parents were dying and she was receiving honorary degrees from various universities. Her last major work, Not Under Forty (1936) describes her attitude towards writing, and why she never married. She died April 24, 1947, and was praised by H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis.
- "Cather, Willa." Encyclopedia Britannica Online.