Willa Sibert Cather

(1873-1947 / United States)

Biography of Willa Sibert Cather

Willa Sibert Cather poet

Willa Siebert Cather (December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947) was an American author who grew up in Nebraska. She is best known for her depictions of frontier life on the Great Plains in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark.

Cather moved to join the editorial staff of McClure's and in 1908 was promoted to managing editor. As a journalist, she co-authored, alongside Georgina M. Wells, a critical biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. It was serialized in McClure's in 1907-8 and published the next year as a book. Christian Scientists were outraged and tried to buy up every copy. The work was reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1993. In 1942 Cather met a variety of authors in New York. Sarah Orne Jewett advised her to rely less on the influence of Henry James and more on her own experiences in Nebraska. For her novels, Cather returned to the prairie for inspiration and also drew on her experiences in France. These works became both popular and critical successes.

In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, published in 1922. This work had been inspired by reading her cousin G.P. Cather's wartime letters home to his mother. He was the first officer from Nebraska killed in World War I. Those letters are now held in the George Cather Ray Collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

Cather was celebrated by critics like H.L. Mencken for writing in plainspoken language about ordinary people. When novelist Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature, he paid homage to her by saying that Cather should have won the honor.

Later critics tended to favor more experimental authors. In times of political activism some agreed with Cather, a political conservative, for writing about conditions of ordinary people, rather than working to change them.

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Poppies On Ludlow Castle

THROUGH halls of vanished pleasure,
And hold of vanished power,
And crypt of faith forgotten,
A came to Ludlow tower.

A-top of arch and stairway,
Of crypt and donjan cell,
Of council hall, and chamber,
Of wall, and ditch, and well,

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