Willa Cather

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Willa Cather

There are few female authors that have had an impact on literature as great as
that of Willa Cather. Not only was she an exquisite author, but she broke
through into writing during a time when few female authors were successful. Her
life, which was directly influential to her writing, was of a simple nature.
However, she was able to over come a drab, mundane life, and turn her
experiences into stories that would be enjoyed by many generations. Willa
Siebert Cather was born in her maternal grandmother's home in 1873 in the
western region of Virginia (Robinson). Cather's name was originally Willela
(after her father's younger sister who died as a child), but the family always
called her "Willie." They did this because as a child Willa altered
her name in the family Bible and insisted that she was named after her uncle
William Sibert Boak (Woodress). In the spring of 1883, when Willa was nine, the
Cathers moved to a farm near Red Cloud, Nebraska. Cather described her thoughts
of this land to an interviewer. She said, "As we drove further and further
out into the country , I felt a good deal as we had come to the end of
everything." (Cather quoted in Woodress). They came to Nebraska by train
because the journey by wagon would have been long and tiring. Cather's first
home in the state of Nebraska was with her Grandfather. (Robinson). "Its
most characteristic feature which she described faithfully in My Antonia was a
basement kitchen and dining room." (Robinson) However, a year later the
Cather's left the farm to live in the town of Red Cloud, so the children could
attend school. Red Cloud was a town of 2,500 people. The people of Red Cloud
played an important part in the life and work of Willa Cather. There were many
people in the town who inspired her and "she sought interesting adults
wherever she could find them." (Woodress). Two of Red Cloud's doctors
became friends with Willa, and sometimes let her come along on their calls.
Cather also medically experimented on animals with a set of medical instruments,
this upset and disgusted some of the citizens of Red Cloud. (Robinson). In high
school Willa Cather had greatest ambition was to become a doctor, a profession
in which few women excelled. Cather graduated from high-school in June of 1890,
at the age of sixteen (Woodress). She was the only student of the three who
graduated who intended to pursue college. She would enter the University of
Nebraska at Lincoln the following September (Robinson). Cather was also inspired
by the actors and actresses who came to perform at the town's Opera House. The
children of Red Cloud would put on their own shows where Willa seemed to be an
adequate actress, but she always played a boy (Robinson). This was a great
surprise because at the time, many women did not perform. Rather younger boys
would play the female roles in a play. She expressed a vast dislike for skirts
and dresses (Woodress) and later when she attended the University of Nebraska
she continued to dress in a boyish manner (Daiches). She wore suspenders,
starched shirts and insisted while in college to continue trying out for the
male roles in college theater (Woodress). Cather went to Lincoln with the intent
of studying science. She was very interested in botany, astronomy and chemistry
(Woodress). However, the event that changed her heart toward writing occurred in
March of 1891. A professor of Cather's assigned an essay to be written, and the
professor was so impressed with Cather's work that without telling her, he sent
it to the Journal, the towns paper. He also sent it to a literary magazine for
students called The Hesperian (Robinson). Cather opened the Sunday paper to find
her essay in print and from that time on she forgot about medicine and
concentrated on writing (Woodress). Throughout her college years Cather
continued to write for the Journal and took any chance to earn money writing for
the paper. Even if that meant putting aside her school work to do it. In the two
years she wrote for the Journal she produced over 300 pieces, many of which were
essays (Woodress). Cather became the Journal's drama critic and she quickly made
a name for herself. "Her work showed a maturity and poise not expected in
so young a critic, and her knowledge of drama and literature, continental and
classic, as well as English was extensive" (Robinson). During her last