Willa Cather's Estate Releases The Nebraska Author's Letters - Boyum Law
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Willa Cather’s Estate Releases The Nebraska Author’s Letters

As far as famous Nebraskans go, Willa Cather’s name is not among the most easily recognizable. Her work, on the other hand, is. Cather, who grew up in Nebraska, authored multiple books about pioneer life on the plains. Many of her characters are based on real-life people and the events of their lives. But while Cather chose to share the stories of those around her through fiction, she kept her own life relatively private. In fact, Cather included a provision in her will to prevent letters she had written from being published or quoted. A recent policy change by the literary executor of the Willa Cather Trust has opened up access to 3,000 of her personal letters, which reveal details of the Nebraska author’s life.

Who was Willa Cather?

Cather’s Antonia is based on her childhood friend, Annie.

Willa Cather was a Virginian-born writer who grew up on the plains of Nebraska. Cather attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where she originally planned to become a doctor. However, her plans changed after a professor submitted one of her essays to a newspaper in Lincoln. Seeing her name in print made Cather want to continue to write, which she did successfully in many genres. Her work as an author extends across multiple literary fields, including print journalism, magazine writing/editing, and fiction.

Why are Cather’s letters important?

Cather’s letters are important to both scholars and everyday readers because they offer insight on the author’s life. By examining her letters, researchers are able to align the events of Cather’s life with her work. One of her letters, for example, was sent to her childhood friend Annie Pavelka. Scholars know that Pavelka is the real-life version of Cather’s Antonia character in her novel, My Antonia. The letter provides solid proof that Cather’s novel is based on real-life.

Additionally, Cather’s letters sent back and forth to other authors of the time provide insight as to who might’ve influenced her writing.

How has the Willa Cather Trust bypassed Cather’s will?

By reading and publishing Cather’s letters, scholars have broken the provision in her will meant to protect her privacy. However, they feel that they are able to read her letters with a clear conscience and without getting into legal trouble because Cather is part of literary history. This is because her novels are reflective of the time she lived in. Additionally, her letters tell the story of her life and the events of her life influenced her writing. So, having access to Cather’s letters gives readers the chance to better understand who the Nebraska author was and how she became a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Where to find Cather’s letters

A portion of Cather’s letters are compiled into book format and titled “The Selected Letters of Willa Cather.” Scholars added annotations with biographical information to help readers find the missing background clues of Cather’s life. Readers will be able to access all of Cather’s letters in January of 2018 when “The Complete Letters of Willa Cather” begins to be published.