Willa Cather

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Willa Cather (1873-1947) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author best known for her portrayals of frontier life on the American Great Plains in the late 19th century, exemplified by her novels O Pioneers! and My Ántonia. In addition, she also wrote several novels expressing her lament concerning the demise of the frontier and the spread of a culture of convention and materialism in the 1920s.


Cather was born on a farm in Virginia in 1873 and moved to Nebraska with her family when she was 10 years old. After farming for one year, the family moved to Red Cloud where her father engaged in real estate work.

Several years later, in 1890, Willa moved to Lincoln where she attended a prep school prior to entering college at the University of Nebraska, from which she graduated in 1895.

After graduation, she moved to Pittsburgh where she worked on a women's magazine (the Home Monthly), leaving that job to teach English and Latin in high school for several years. Meanwhile, in 1903 she published her first volume of poetry (April Twilights) and, in 1905, a collection of short stories (The Troll Garden). From there, she went to New York City where she wrote for McClure's magazine, eventually becoming its managing editor.

It was while she was in New York that she published her first novels, including those for which she is best known today - O Pioneers! and My Antonia. Both of these novels detail the struggles of successful pioneer women to establish themselves on the Great Plains during frontier times and, in so doing, celebrate the entire panorama of European immigrant settlement of the Plains.

Sometime following this, her writing took a new direction. Several novels written during the 1920s mourned the rise of a new ethic of materialism and conventional life and the simultaneous loss of the pioneer spirit and the closing of the frontier. Among them were One of Ours (which won a Pulitzer Prize), A Lost Lady, and The Professor's House.

The final phase of Cather's writing career was marked by novels of historical fiction celebrating the pioneers of even earlier eras: Death Comes for the Archbishop, set in the American Southwest, and Shadows on the Rock, set in 17th century Quebec.

In all her work, the stories are not so much plot-driven as they are chronicles more concerned with the creation (or re-creation) of a social world.