Willa Siebert Cather is among the most eminent of female American authors. She is known for her depictions of United States prairie life in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop.
Cather was born on December 7, 1873, on a small farm in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, where her father's family had lived for six generations. Her family relocated to Nebraska in 1883, and she spent the rest of her childhood in Red Cloud, Nebraska. She insisted on attending college, so her family borrowed money so she could enroll at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While there she became a regular contributor to the Nebraska State Journal.
She later moved to Pittsburgh, where she taught high school English and worked for Home Monthly and McClure's Magazine. The latter publication serialized her first novel, Alexander's Bridge.
Cather moved to New York City in 1906 in order to join the editorial staff of McClure's, eventually becoming the managing editor in 1908. As a journalist, she co-authored a highly critical biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. It was first serialized in 1907-8 and published in book form the following year. Testifying to the power of Cather's writing, Christian Scientists were outraged and tried to buy every copy. Cather herself was born into the Baptist faith but converted to Episcopalianism in 1922, having begun to attend Sunday services in the church as early as 1906.
For her novels, she returned to the prairie for inspiration, her works becoming both popular and critical successes. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of Ours and was celebrated by critics like H.L. Mencken for writing about ordinary people in plainspoken language. When he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Sinclair Lewis said Cather should have won it instead.
In 1973, Willa Cather was honored by the United States Postal Service with her image on a postage stamp. She is also a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame. A resolutely private person, Cather destroyed many old drafts, personal papers, and letters. Her will restricted the ability of scholars to quote from those personal papers that remain. She died April 24, 1947.
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