24 April 2018 | Various Sources
Willa Sibert Cather: December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947
Cather was an American writer 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.
“No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as MY ANTONIA.”
— H. L. Mencken
“My Ántonia is a novel published in 1918 by American writer Willa Cather, considered one of her best works. It is the final book of her “prairie trilogy” of novels, preceded by O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark.
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Willa Sibert Cather, noted American novelist, died at 4:30 P.M. yesterday (April 24, 1947) in her home at 570 Park Avenue.
After Miss Cather’s death a secretary, who was with her at the time, was too upset to talk about it. It was reported that death was due to a cerebral hemorrhage. The author was 70 years old in December.
Surviving are two brothers, John E. Cather of Whittier, Calif., and James Cather of Long Beach, Calif., and two sisters, Mrs. Jessica Auld of Palo Alto, Calif., and Elsie Margaret Cather of Lincoln, Neb.
One of the most distinguished of American novelists, Willa Sibert Cather wrote a dozen or more novels that will be long remembered for their exquisite economy and charm of manner. Her talent had its nourishment and inspiration in the American scene, the Middle West in particular, and her sensitive and patient understanding of that section of the country formed the basis of her work.
Much of her writing was conceived in something of an attitude of placid reminiscence. This was notably true of such early novels as “My Antonia” and “O Pioneers!” in which she told with minute detail of homestead life on the slowly conquered prairies.
Perhaps her most famous book was “A Lost Lady,” published in 1923. In it Miss Cather’s talents were said to have reached their full maturity. It is the story of the Middle West in the age of railway-building, of the charming wife of Captain Forrester, a retired contractor, and her hospitable and open-handed household as seen through the eyes of an adoring boy. The climax of the book, with the disintegration of the Forrester household and the slow coarsening of his wife, is considered a masterpiece of vivid, haunting prose.
Won Pulitzer Prize in 1922
Another of her famous books is “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” 1927, in which she tells in the form of a chronicle a simple story of two saints of the Southwest. Her novel, “One of Ours,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922.
In 1944, Miss Cather received the gold medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the institute’s highest award and designed not to honor a specific work, but the sustained output of a writer or artist.
Although generally thought of as a Western writer, Miss Cather was born on a farm near Winchester, Va., on Dec. 7, 1876. Her ancestors, on both sides, had been Virginia farmers for three or four generations. They came originally from England, Ireland and Alsace.
When she was 8 years old, her father took his family to Nebraska and bought a ranch near Red Cloud. The little girl did not go to school at first but spent many hours reading the English classics with her two grandmothers. Later, when her family moved into Red Cloud proper, she attended high school and then the University off Nebraska, from which she was graduated in 1895.
She spent a few years in Pittsburgh teaching and doing newspaper work, choosing that city rather than New York because she had many friends there. Each summer she visited in Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming. Meanwhile, she had started writing, and her first published book was a volume of verse. “April Twilights,” reissued in 1923 as “April Twilights and Later Verse.”
Editor on McClure’s Magazine
Miss Cather’s first volume of stories was “The Troll Garden,” published in 1905 by McClure-Phillips. Two years later she became an associate editor in New York of McClure’s Magazine. She then was managing editor of the publication for four years.
During this period she wrote very little but traveled a great deal in Europe and the American Southwest, Arizona and New Mexico. In 1912 she gave up editorial work to write her first novel, “Alexander’s Bridge.” This was followed by “O Pioneers!” “The Song of the Lark” and “My Antonia.”
In “The Professor’s House,” 1925, she began experiments with a new technique of story- telling, constructing her tale of an intellectual’s soul development according to the familiar methods of music.
The next year she wrote “My Mortal ‘Enemy,” which was compared by many with “A Lost Lady” but, for the most part, suffered by the comparison. A reviewer in The New York Times said of the book that while it was inferior to the former work it did impress as a “later” book.
In 1931 Miss Cather wrote “Shadows on the Rock,” which was considered the most popular novel in America during that year in the annual Baker & Taylor survey, and won for her the Prix Femina Americaine.
Miss Cather, who in 1931 was ranked by J.B. Priestley, the English author, as this country’s greatest novelist, received the honorary degree of Litt.D. in 1924 from the University of Michigan. Columbia University conferred the same distinction on her in 1928. Yale followed suit in 1929 and Princeton two years later.
Among her other novels were “Lucy Gayheart” and, her last, “Sapphira and the Slave Girl,” published in 1940. She also wrote two books of short stories, “Obscure Destinies” and “Youth and the Bright Medusa,” and a collection of essays under the title, “Not Under Forty.” For many years her publishers have been Alfred A. Knopf.
From Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 25 April 1947.
Dr. Willa Cather, 70 [sic], author and former Pittsburgher, died yesterday of a cerebral hemorrhage in the the Madison Ave. (New York) home where she lived for many years.
One of her best books was “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” in 1927.
She was an artist in telling a story simply.
Dr. Cather was born in Winchester, Va., reared on a Nebraska ranch, but spent 11 years in Pittsburgh.
Here in 1895.
She came to Pittsburgh in 1895, upon graduation from the University of Nebraska, because she was fond of music and believed she could satisfy her desire for concerts and intellectual companionship in the “city of steel.”
In Nebraska she was a newspaper correspondent.
Here, she was telegraph editor and drama critic for the old “Pittsburgh Leader.”
She also taught a year at Old Central High School, where John O’Connor Jr., now assistant director of fine arts at Carnegie Institute, was one of her pupils. He still cherishes a yellowed composition paper of his on which she marked “Good.”
She was well-liked by the pupils, he said, who found inspiration in the breezy, western way she had with people. She dressed plainly in tailored clothes, he said, and always wore her hair parted Madonna-like in the middle.
Following the year at Central, she transferred to Allegheny High School in 1901, where she became head of the English department.
Another Pittsburgher at whose home she spent a great deal of time is George Seibel, critic and present head of the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny.
She was delightful and intelligent company Seibel recalls. Twice a week she came to the Seibel home to read French authors with George and his wife. Seibel says:
“She did her work, did it well, and let it go at that. She avoided getting into the limelight.”
Her first important writing, as he recalls it, was a short story published in “Cosmopolitan” magazine and a poem in the then popular “Youth’s Companion.” She also did a great deal of work for a local publication called “The Library.”
While living in Pittsburgh, her residence most of the time was the home of Judge S. A. McClung, whose daughter, Isabel, was her close friend. Isabel married a musician, Jan Hambourg, and later moved to Paris.
Much of Miss Cather’s musical knowledge and interest came about through this association. One of her short stories, written in Pittsburgh, was called “Paul’s Case,” and was based on the actual suicide of a local high school youth. His parents objected, and when the story later came out in a book of short stories by Miss Cather it was entitled “Youth and the Bright Medusa.”
Her first book was in verse, “April Twilights,” 1903. In 1905 a book of short stores “clicked” and she became associate editor of “McClure’s Magazine” in 1906.
‘Birthplace.’ She often referred to Pittsburgh as the “birthplace” of her writing career. Many of her poems and stories were based on activities that centered here at the turn of the century in Carnegie Music Hall, Schenley Park, Schenley Hotel and the fashionable residences of Fifth Ave. and Old Allegheny. “Death Comes for the Archbishop” and “A Lost Lady,” 1923, were considered her best books.
The former was a simple, vivid story of two saints of the Southwest; the latter a feminine study with a prairie background. “One of Ours,” the story of a western boy in World War I, won the Pulitzer prize in 1922. In 1933 she was awarded Prix Femina Americaine “for distinguished literary accomplishments.”
Her other books were The Troll Garden, 1905; Alexander’s Bridge, 1912; O Pioneers, 1913; The Song of the Lark, 1915; My Antonia, 1918, a story of the currents of emotion in every Main St. in America; Youth and the Bright Medusa, 1920; The Professor’s House, 1925; My Mortal Enemy, 1926; Shadows on the Rock, 1931; Obscure Destinies, 1932; Lucy Gayheart, 1935; Not Under Forty, 1936; Sapphira and the Slave Girl, 1940.
She held Doctor of Literature degrees from University of Nebraska, University of Michigan, University of California, Columbia, Princeton and Yale. She was unmarried.