On this day… 7th December 1873 – Willa Cather born.
Willa Sibert Cather ( December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947) was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Ántonia (1918). In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I.
Cather grew up in Virginia and Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She lived and worked in Pittsburgh for ten years. At the age of 33 she moved to New York City, her primary home for the rest of her life, though she also traveled widely and spent considerable time at her summer residence in New Brunswick, Canada.
Cather was one of the country’s most successful woman journalists before she was a novelist. According to a letter she wrote in 1908, her boss, the inimitable S. S. McClure, told her “that he does not think I will ever be able to do much at writing stories, that I am a good executive and I had better let it go at that.” In 1912, she left her job with McClure’s to become a very successful full-time writer.
Cather said O Pioneers!, which was published in 1913, was her second “first novel” because it was the book where she where she hit her home turf and found her own voice: “This was like taking a ride through a familiar country on a horse that knew the way, on a fine morning when you felt like riding. The other [Alexander’s Bridge] was like riding in a park, with someone not altogether congenial, to whom you had to be talking all the time.” Actually, though, she might have called O Pioneers! her third first novel. She had earlier written a novel called “Fanny” and set in Pittsburgh that never made it into print.
Did You Know?..
Cather’s most widely-read and widely-admired novel, My Ántonia, was nominated for the first-ever Pulitzer Prize but didn’t get it.
The one for which she later won a Pulitzer Prize, One of Ours, was thought by many to be a weaker work. Although it follows its hero, Claude Wheeler, to the battlefields of World War I, she insisted it should not be understood as a war novel and had to be talked out of titling it simply Claude.