Image of Willa Cather


Lifetime: 1873 - 1947 Passed: ≈ 77 years ago


American Writer


United States

Willa Cather

Willa Sibert Cather was an American writer known for her novels of life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, a novel set during World War I.

Shortly after graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Cather moved to Pittsburgh for ten years, supporting herself as a magazine editor and high school English teacher. At the age of 33, she moved again to New York City, her primary home for the rest of her life, though she also travelled widely and spent considerable time at her summer residence on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. She spent the last 39 years of her life with her domestic partner, Edith Lewis, before dying of a cerebral haemorrhage. She is buried alongside Lewis in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

Cather achieved recognition as a novelist of the frontier and pioneer experience. She wrote of the spirit of those settlers moving into the western states, many of them European immigrants in the nineteenth century. Common themes in her work include nostalgia and exile. A sense of place is an important element in Cather's fiction: physical landscapes and domestic spaces are for Cather dynamic presences against which her characters struggle and find community.

Cather was born in 1873 on her maternal grandmother's farm in the Back Creek Valley near Winchester, Virginia. Her father was Charles Fectigue Cather. The Cather family originated in Wales, the name deriving from Cadair Idris, a Gwynedd mountain. Her mother was Mary Virginia Boak, a former school teacher. By the time Cather turned twelve months old, the family had moved to Willow Shade, a Greek Revival-style home on 130 acres given to them by her paternal grandparents.

In 1896, Cather was hired to write for a women's magazine, Home Monthly, moving in the process to Pittsburgh. There, she wrote journalistic pieces, short stories, and poetry. A year later, after the magazine was sold, she became a telegraph editor and critic for the Pittsburgh Leader and frequently contributed poetry and short fiction to The Library, another local publication. In Pittsburgh, she taught Latin, algebra, and English composition at Central High School for one year; she then taught English and Latin at Allegheny High School, where she came to head the English department.

Cather was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1945 and had a mastectomy on January 14, 1946. Probably by early 1947, her cancer metastasized to her liver, becoming stage IV cancer. About a year later, on April 24, 1947, Cather died of a cerebral hemorrhage, at the age of 73, in her home at 570 Park Avenue in Manhattan. Following Cather's death, Edith Lewis destroyed the manuscript of Hard Punishments, according to Cather's instructions.

Books by Willa Cather

My Antonia Cover image

My Antonia

Fiction History Novel
Domestic Fiction Struggle Triumphs

My Ántonia is a novel published in 1918 by American writer Willa Cather, considered one of her best works. The novel tells the stories of an orphaned boy from Virginia, Jim Burden, and the elder daughter in a family of Bohemian immigrants, Ántonia S...

O Pioneers! Cover image

O Pioneers!

Fiction History
Morality Sacrifice

O Pioneers! is a 1913 novel by American author Willa Cather, written while she was living in New York. This is her second published novel.

Youth and the Bright Medusa, and The Troll Garden  Cover image

Youth and the Bright Medusa, and The Troll Garden

Short Story Youth Death Desert Gardening

Youth And The Bright Medusa comprises eight short stories published in 1920. Four of them (The Sculptor’s Funeral; A Death In The Desert; A Wagner Matinee; Paul’s Case) are re-worked from an earlier collection, The Troll Garden, published in 1905. Th...

The Song of the Lark  Cover image

The Song of the Lark

Twentieth Century Bildungsroman Success Discovery Songs General Fiction

The book tells the story of a talented artist born in a small town in Colorado who discovers and develops her singing voice. Her story is told against the backdrop of the burgeoning American West in which she was born in a town along the rail line, o...

One of Ours  Cover image

One of Ours

Fiction Novel
Twentieth Century War Military Historical Fiction America United States Inspirational

One of Ours is a 1922 novel by Willa Cather that won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. It tells the story of the life of Claude Wheeler, a Nebraska native in the first decades of the 20th century. The son of a successful farmer and an intensely...

Alexander's Bridge  Cover image

Alexander's Bridge

Ship America Discovery Relationships Psychoanalysis United States General Fiction

Alexander's Bridge is the first novel by American author Willa Cather. First published in 1912, it was re-released with an author's preface in 1922. It also ran as a serial in McClure's, giving Cather some free time from her work for that magazine....

The Professor's House Cover image

The Professor's House

Family War Death Ancient Rescue Exploration Life Wealth

The Professor's House is a novel by American novelist Willa Cather. Published in 1925, the novel was written over the course of several years. Cather first wrote the centerpiece, “Tom Outland's Story,” and then later wrote the two framing chapters “T...

My Mortal Enemy Cover image

My Mortal Enemy

Love Social Exploration Betrayal Emotion Relationships Experiences

It explores the complex relationships between two women, Nellie Birdseye and Myra Henshawe, who have been friends since childhood. The novel delves into the intense and passionate bond between the two women, as well as the power dynamics that shape t...

A Lost Lady Cover image

A Lost Lady

Fiction Novel
Love Dream Adventure Sacrifice Exploration Narrative Loss Wisdom Prose Wilderness Storytelling Town Human Condition

It transports readers to the enchanting landscapes of the American West, offering a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the ever-changing nature of society. This timeless novel resonates with readers of all ages, captivating young minds, with its...

Death Comes for the Archbishop Cover image

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Fiction History
Epic Adventure Historical Fiction Exploration Religious tradition Religious Spirituality Mission

It is a captivating and thought-provoking book that transports readers to the vast landscapes of the American Southwest. This timeless novel, written in [insert year if notable], follows the journey of two Catholic priests as they establish a mission...

My Ántonia Cover image

My Ántonia

My Ántonia tells the stories of several immigrant families who move out to rural Nebraska to start new lives in America, with a particular focus on a Bohemian family, the Shimerdas, whose eldest daughter is named Ántonia. The book’s narrator, Jim Bur...

Lost Lady (Verson 2) Cover image

Lost Lady (Verson 2)

Charismatic Marian Forrester, the wife of a railroad pioneer, captures the heart of every person she meets. Niel Herbert is no exception. He has adored Mrs. Forrester since the age of twelve, considering her the epitome of feminine charm and grace. H...

April Twilights and Other Poems Cover image

April Twilights and Other Poems

A selection of thirty-six poems by American writer Willa Cather. (summary by mleigh)