Willa Cather definitely defied the norms for girls in her day and age…she cut her hair short, wore trousers, openely rebelled against roles girls were supposed to play, and became one of the first women in her time to have graduated from college. Born in Winchester, Virginia, on December 11, 1873, her father moved the family to Red Cloud, Nebraska, when Willa was 9. Her immediate love for the prairie and her involvement in the lives of Bohemian and Scandanavian neighbors provided her with all the material she needed to express herself eloquently in her poems and novels.
Her first collection of poems, April Twilights, was published in 1903. In 1905, she published a collection of short stories, but neither collection really displayed her immense talent. Alexander’s Bridge, her first novel, was published in 1912. Her well-written and moving story of life on the prairie, O Pioneers, was the catalyst for her success as a writer and author. Cather’s next novel, One of Ours, was about a man who goes to war in order to escape his farm environment, and won the Pulitizer Prize in 1922.
With the passing of the frontier, Cather left the Midwest and lived off and on in New York and Europe until the 1920’s. She then discovered the southwest desert, and wrote two of her most famous novels, Death Comes for the Archbishop and Shadows On The Rock. Her devotion to the land and her respect for those rooted to it are key elements of equal importance in her novels.
Partly in order to devote herself to writing, Cather never married. The best examples of her lyrical evocation of nature were written between 1925-1937.
Her last book, Not Under Forty, was published in 1936. She died on April 24, 1947.
Truly a pioneer who has earned herself a revered place in First Women In History.
Willa Cather, by Ann T. Keene
Willa Cather: Double Lives, by Hermione Lee