Sunday, April 15, 2012

Willa Cather Is Coming to Beatrice!

"There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.”  Willa Cather left her mark on the United States as a Pulitzer Prize winning writer chronicling frontier life on the Great Plains.  Living among the first generation of settlers in 1880’s Nebraska her novels such as O Pioneers!, My Antonia and The Song of the Lark captured stories of ordinary people, images and the monumental rigors of homesteading life. 

Willa Cather (1873-1947) was born in Virginia and raised on the Nebraska prairie.  As the oldest of seven children, Cather was nine when her family settled on a farm near Red Cloud, Nebraska in 1883.  At the time the population of Red Cloud was about 1,000 and Cather was one of sixteen students in the townships’ one-room schoolhouse. 
The daily arrival of eight passenger trains led hundreds of travels to stop for meals.  The town opera house was completed in 1885 and by 1889 there was a grand bank on Main Street.  There she grew up among the foreign language and customs of immigrants from Europe – Bohemian and Scandinavian - who were breaking the land on the Great Plains. 
Like many families, the Cathers found homesteading to be a difficult and unrewarding life.  They eventually gave up the endeavor before obtaining their 160 acre farm and moved into the town of Red Cloud.  There Cather worked delivering mail on horseback to many of the remote farms located outside the town.  This experience coupled with her immediate, fierce love for the prairie provided the material and a simple manner of expression for her novels.

At the age of Sixteen Cather left home to attend the land-grant college of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Initially she intended to study science but after a professor submitted one of her papers to the school newspaper, Cather began to rethink her career plans.  She began to write a column for the school newspaper and acted in a number of plays.

After graduating in 1895, Cather worked in Pittsburgh and then New York as an editor, dramatic critic and high school teacher.  By 1903 Cather began publishing verses, short stories, and eventually novels.  In 1913, Cather published O Pioneers! a novel depicting one Swedish family’s experiences Homesteading on the plains of Nebraska.  She followed with The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Antonia (1918), but depicting heroic immigrant women growing up on the vast plains of Nebraska. 

By the mid-1920s, Cather was one of America's best-loved writers. She won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours in 1923, made the cover of Time in 1931, and received the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1944.

On Friday, May 25 join us under the big white tent at 7:30 for an evening with Willa Cather!  Learn firsthand how she was transformed by three pieces of legislations passed in 1862: The Pacific Railway Act, the Homestead Act, and the Morrill Act and how these experiences transformed and inspired her writing.  Betty Jean Steinshouer will provide a first person interpretation of Willa Cather.  After the performance, members of the audience can ask questions directed to Cather, who will respond in first person.  Later, Steinshouer will also take questions as a Cather scholar.

Willa Cather is known today as one of the most significant American novelists.  She is celebrated for her portrayal of the poignant beauty and pioneer spirit of the American frontier.  During her lifetime Cather wrote a total of twelve published novels and various other works.  Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to meet Willa Cather and experience an evening of Chautauqua under the big white tent!   
Written by Alexis Winder, committee member of the Beatrice Chautauqua:
“Free Land?  1862 and the Shaping of Modern America”

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Chautauqua Calendar

  • May 20: Meet the Chautauquans 11:00 am Chautauqua Park Beatrice
  • May 20: 150th Anniversary Begins 6:00 pm Homestead