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The Great Passion of My Life


Author Willa Cather was born on this date in 1873. Although born in Virginia, she will forever be identified with pioneering on the Great Plains. She described the Plains as the great passion of her life. She wrote, "When I strike the open plains, something happens. I'm home. I breathe differently.”

Cather’s family moved to her grandfather’s farm in Nebraska in 1883. She was immediately struck by the contrast between the wooded hills of Virginia and the wide open plains. She became friends with many of the Swedish, French, and Bohemian immigrants who had come to homestead. These immigrants formed the basis of many of the characters who later appeared in her novels.

Cather planned to study science at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, but she began to rethink her career choice after writing a column for the school newspaper. She went on to became the editor of a Pittsburgh newspaper, a drama critic, and a book reviewer. She also taught high school English.

Cather moved to New York where she became managing editor for McClure’s Magazine. Her first novel was Alexander’s Bridge, published in 1912. The following year O Pioneers! came out. This was followed by My Antonia in 1918. H.L. Mencken declared that there was no American novel that was even half as beautiful as My Antonia. He added that no other novel captured the inhabitants of the Great Plains and brought them to life.

On April 24, 1947, Cather died in her New York City apartment of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was buried on a hillside in the Old Burying Ground in Cheshire County, New Hampshire. She had chosen the site herself.

Cather had a long and distinguished writing career. She received numerous honors and awards. She received honorary degrees from the University of Michigan, the University of California, Columbia, Yale, and Princeton. The Nebraska Hall of Fame honored her as the first woman inductee. Cather never lived in North Dakota, and she wrote primarily about Nebraska, but her works made the Great Plains come alive for people who would never see it for themselves, and many North Dakotans can readily relate to her stories and her characters.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

The Literature Network. "http://www.online-literature.com/willa-cather/" http://www.online-literature.com/willa-cather/ Accessed 14 August, 2014

PBS: American Masters. "http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/willa-cather/about-willa-cather/549/" http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/willa-cather/about-willa-cather/549/ Accessed 14 August, 2014.

The Willa Cather Foundation. "http://www.willacather.org/about-willa-cather/willa-cather-timeline" http://www.willacather.org/about-willa-cather/willa-cather-timeline Accessed 14 August, 2014.