Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Willa Cather once famously observed, "The end is nothing; the road is all." Cather herself made the most of the road she traveled, wearing an indelible literary path studded with classic American novels from O Pioneers! to My Ántonia.
Wilella Sibert Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in the small Virginia farming community of Winchester. When she was ten years old, her parents moved the family to the prairies of Nebraska, where her father opened a farm mortgage and insurance business. Home-schooled before enrolling in the local high school, Cather had a mind of her own, changing her given name to Willa and adopting a variation of her grandmother's maiden name, Seibert, as her middle name.
During Cather's studies at the University of Nebraska, she worked as a drama critic to support herself and published her first piece of short fiction, "Peter," in a Boston magazine. After graduation, her love of music and intellectual pursuits inspired her to move to Pittsburgh, where she edited the family magazine Home Monthly, wrote theater criticism for the Pittsburgh Daily Leader, and taught English and Latin in local high schools. Cather's big break came with the publication of her first short story collection, The Troll Garden (1905). The following year she moved to New York City to work for McClure's Magazine as a writer and eventually the magazine's managing editor.
Considered one of the great figures of early-twentieth-century American literature, Willa Cather derived much of her inspiration from the American Midwest, which she considered her home. Never married, she cherished her many friendships, some of which she had maintained since childhood. Her intimate coterie of women writers and artists motivated Cather to produce some of her best work. Sarah Orne Jewett, a successful author from Maine whom Cather had met during her McClure's years, inspired her to devote herself full-time to creating literature and to write about her childhood, which she did in several novels of the prairies. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her novel about World War I, called One of Ours.
She won many other awards, including a gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Prix Femina Americaine. On April 24, 1947, two years after publishing her last novel, Willa Cather died in New York City of a cerebral hemorrhage. Among Cather's other accomplishments were honorary doctorate degrees from Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities.
Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of O, Pioneers!.
Good To Know
When Cather first arrived at the University of Nebraska, she dressed as William Cather, her opposite sex twin.
Cather was the first woman voted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame, in 1961.
She spent forty years of her life with her companion, Edith Lewis, in New York City.