Friday, December 5, 2014

Willa Cather was Born - December 7, 1873

This week (December 5-11) in English literary history – John Steinbeck’s “Sea of Cortez” was published (December 5, 1941); First African-American female poet Phillis Wheatley died (December 5, 1784); James Joyce’s Ulysses was deemed not obscene by a U.S. Federal judge (December 6, 1933); Poet Joyce Kilmer was born (December 6, 1886); Willa Cather was born (December 7, 1873); Thornton Wilder died (December 7, 1975); James Thurber was born (December 8, 1894); Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” was published (December 9, 1854); John Milton was born (December 9, 1608); Emily Dickinson was born (December 10. 1830). 

Highlighted Story of the Week -  

On December 7, 1873, Willa Cather was born in Winchester, Virginia. Cather was the first of seven children born to an old Virginia family dating back to colonial times. Her maternal grandfather served several terms in the Virginia House of Delegates. Her grandmother was a strong, courageous woman who had a powerful influence on Cather and served as the model for several of her characters. Cather's family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska, when she was a child, and for the rest of her life she wrote about the deep conflict she felt between East and West. While books like O Pioneers (1913) and My Antonia (1918) celebrated the spirit of the frontier, in other works, such as The Song of the Lark (1915), she explores the stifling effects of small-town life on creative young minds. 

After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1895, Cather moved to Pittsburgh to be an editor for a family magazine. She later became an editor for the daily paper in Pittsburgh. In 1901, she became a teacher and stuck with it for several years while she published her first book of poems, “April Twilights” in 1903, and her first collection of short stories, “The Troll Garden” (1905). She then moved to New York to take a job as managing editor of McClure's, a monthly publication, and began writing novels. Her first, Alexander's Bridge, appeared in 1912, but she didn't find her true voice until O Pioneers. Cather won a Pulitzer in 1922 for One of Ours. Her 1927 novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop, the story of two French-Canadian priests who build a cathedral in the wilds of New Mexico, was also well received. Cather lived most of her adult life in New York, writing novels until her death on April 24, 1947 from a cerebral hemorrhage at her home in Park Avenue in New York City. She was buried at Old Burying Ground in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. 

Check back every Friday for a new installment of “This Week in English Literary History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the gold medal winning Literary Legends of the British Isles and soon to be released America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:

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