Discipline: Writer, fiction

Willa Cather

Discipline: Writer, fiction
Region: Red Cloud, Nebraska
MacDowell fellowships: Summer 1926

Willa Cather, an American novelist and poet, is remembered for her vivid portrayals of pioneer life on the western plains. Born in 1873, Cather spent her early years in Virginia, before moving with her family to Catherton, and then Red Cloud, Nebraska, a town that would become synonymous with her name. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, she began her career as a journalist, writing theater reviews for the Pittsburgh Leader and the Nebraska State Journal. In 1901 she took a break from journalism to teach high school English, while continuing to write poetry and short stories. One of her stories caught the attention of S.S. McClure, editor of the famous muckraking journal, and in 1906 he invited Cather to join the staff of the magazine in New York City, where she was to live the rest of her life. Cather’s first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, serialized in McClure’s, was published in 1912. The following year O Pioneers!, the first story of her Great Plains trilogy, was published to enthusiastic reviews. It was followed up by The Song of the Lark (1914) and the unanimously praised, My Antonia (1918). Cather died on April 24, 1947, from a cerebral hemorrhage. She had published twelve novels, fifty-eight short stories, and several collections of essays. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Prix Femina Americain, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters gold medal. Death Comes for the Archbishop, hailed by critics as “an American classic,” was written in part at the MacDowell Colony in the summer of 1925.

From: A Place for the Arts: The MacDowell Colony, 1907-2007

While a Colonist at MacDowell, in the summer of 1926 Cather expressed interest in seeing Grant Reynard’s paintings when she learned that he was a fellow Nebraskan. Over tea in his studio she told him how her desire to do “fine” writing brought her some acclaim, but that “it wasn’t until I suddenly thought of my youth in a great wave of nostalgia for the early Nebraska days that my work took on a new dimension.” She advised him, “the crux of this whole art experience is in that word ‘desire’ – an urgent need to recreate a vital life experience which wells up within and must find release in the writing.” Reynard’s meeting with Cather left him stunned. He recognized that he was “mixed up in arty ambitions” and rethought his whole approach to his work.” Cather never returned to the Colony but her presence was keenly felt the season she was there.

Studios

Irving Fine

Willa Cather worked in the Irving Fine studio.

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