Willa Cather Biography

Through novels set in the American Southwest and Nebraska, author Willa Cather celebrated the beauty of the American landscape and the simple life of the pioneers who inhabited it. Cather came to despise the modern, materialistic world through her portrayals of courageous, industrious settlers. One of the most important writers in the history of the United States, Cather wrote 12 novels, including Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), the story of a missionary among the Native Americans of New Mexico.

Willa Cather (1873-1947), American writer, one of the country's foremost novelists, whose carefully crafted prose conveys vivid pictures of the American landscape and the people it molded. Influenced by the prose of the American regional writer Sarah Orne Jewett, Cather set many of her works in Nebraska and the American Southwest, areas with which she was familiar from her childhood.

Born near Winchester, Virginia, Cather moved with her family to Red Cloud, Nebraska, when she was ten years old. She graduated from the University of Nebraska before becoming a newspaperwoman and teacher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She moved to New York City in 1906 to work as an editor on McClure's Magazine.

From her college years on, Cather wrote short stories and poetry; her first published book was a collection of verse, April Twilights (1903); her first published prose was a group of stories, The Troll Garden (1905). Not until 1913, however, after having written her first novel, Alexander's Bridge (1912), and having resigned from McClure's, did Cather devote herself solely to writing. Her subsequent novels, O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Ántonia (1918), depict the resolute, dignified life of immigrant farm families on the Great Plains, in contrast to that of the native-born town dwellers. In these works Cather is noted for her skills in evoking the pioneer spirit. Cather also used the prairie setting in her novels One of Ours (1922; Pulitzer Prize, 1923) and A Lost Lady (1923). In these books her theme is the contrast between encroaching urbanization and the achievements of the pioneers. She also continued to create strong, determined female characters, many of whom encounter difficulty relating to a society that expects women to be dependent on others. In Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), considered by some critics to be Cather's greatest novel, she deals with the missionary experiences of a Roman Catholic bishop among the Native Americans of New Mexico. Several trips through the Southwest provided the stimulus for this work, as well as for sections of The Professor's House (1925) and The Song of the Lark. As early as 1909, however, in her haunting short story “The Enchanted Bluff,” the mesas and the ancient people who had dwelt there had captured Cather's imagination. In Shadows on the Rock (1931) Cather went further afield to describe French Roman Catholic life in 17th-century Québec. Cather's last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, was published in 1940.

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