Source File: cat.bohlke.i.11.xml

from Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, and Letters

Selected and edited by L. Brent Bohlke

Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986

Return to Interviews Table of Contents

Cover of L. Brent Bohlke's Willa Cather in Person

1921: LINCOLN

Following her two appearances in Omaha, Cather made plans to spend some time in Lincoln. The Lincoln Star proclaimed in a headline on Sunday, 30 October: "Nebraska Woman Who Achieves Fame in Literary World, Visits Her Old Home." The article went on to say that Cather would "arrive in Lincoln Monday to be the guest for a few days of Mr. and Mrs. Max Westerman." On Tuesday she was interviewed by a reporter for the Journal and by Eleanor Hinman for the Star. The Journal interview appeared on Wednesday, 2 November, and the Star interview on the following Sunday, 6 November.

The Journal interview covers several of the topics that Cather had been speaking on recently in Hastings and Omaha: the cottonwoods, imitation of the east, and the interest of ordinary places and ordinary people. She also talks for the first time at some length about the simple mechanical details of her writing process.

MISS CATHER IN LINCOLN

Miss Willa Cather is giving only two days to Lincoln, which was her home during the years of her university course. Many old time friends and others who would have liked to meet one of the country's most distinguished novelists have been disappointed at her inability to accept offers of such hospitality. In chatting Tuesday with a friend of her school days, Miss Cather expressed deep appreciation of her native prairies and their people. She expressed the wish that women's organizations would study trees, flowers and other beauties of the state instead of turning back to Botticelli and early art.

"I often recall what Sarah Orne Jewett said to me many years ago," said Miss Cather. "Miss Jewett said a knowledge of the world was needed in order to understand the parish. When in big cities or other lands, I have sometimes found types and conditions which particularly interested me, and then after returning to Nebraska, discovered the same types right at home, only I had not recognized their special value until seen thru another environment."

Miss Cather is particularly interested in saving the cottonwoods planted by the pioneers out in the state. "The pioneers feel that the cottonwoods are bound up with their lives," said Miss Cather. "Yet everywhere the tall rugged trees are being cut down. Cottonwoods are out of date. The soft maple is the thing. I gave a talk at Hastings not long ago and made a plea for the preservation of the native trees. You should have seen the number of old people who stayed to talk to me and all spoke of how it hurt when one of the big trees they loved was felled.

"A flat country like Nebraska needs great forking trees like cottonwood or poplar. The poplar gets winter killed in Nebraska, but it also does that in Lombardy. The cottonwood is the only tree of beautiful form that grows easily and naturally in this state without any care. Farmers say the cottonwood draws moisture from the fields. I am not asking them to plant more, but to let stand those great trees that are dear to the pioneers. Their faculty of drawing moisture makes the cottonwoods needed in low places along the roads to take up water which would otherwise form a slough. On high barren pasture land, where nothing else will grow, the cottonwood will thrive. Just as great indifference is shown to the groves of ash and native elms. The farmers will not take the trouble to thin them. The soft maples, which have been planted in many districts to replace the hardier trees, live at the most only about thirty-five years.

"The French people appreciate the beauty of the cottonwood. Great rows are seen along the Seine in Paris. These are of the cotton-bearing variety, too, and in the spring all Paris is aflutter with cotton and no one seems to mind. The spreading roots of these trees draw up the too great moisture along the river banks."

Miss Cather was asked to tell just what was meant about aping the east in the published report of her after dinner speech before the league for women voters at Omaha. She said she had found in a number of Nebraska cities visited a foolish adherence to the supposed fashions and customs of large cities like Chicago and New York. "It is not necessary," she said, "for a stout woman to wear an absurdly short skirt, or a large hat because that is supposed to be the style, any more than it is necessary to plant the same kind of trees as everybody else."

Miss Cather came to Lincoln Monday from Omaha and has since been the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Max Westermann. She will leave for New York at 4:30 Wednesday afternoon. She has been in the state for two months, most of the time with her parents at Red Cloud, where she completed the manuscript of a new novel to be entitled, One of Ours. The first part of this story is laid in Nebraska. Miss Cather expects to give much of the winter months to proof reading and final polishing of the work. The novel will not emerge from the publisher until next fall. Miss Cather has already arranged to go to Paris next autumn as soon as this book is entirely off her hands. She will take an apartment there with friends, for which she will carry over some of her possessions, but will retain her apartment in New York.

"I shall never live abroad permanently," said Miss Cather. "I do not want to. But for a number of reasons it is easier to work in Paris than in New York. There are fewer interruptions and the comforts of life, such as good food and service, are obtained with less effort."

Miss Cather told of her method of working. Each morning she devotes two and a half hours to literary labor. Last winter these working hours were so interrupted by telephone calls that she had her telephone removed. The full plan of a story is distinct in her mind before beginning to write. The first draft is in long hand. She then rewrites by typewriter. This copy is again revised and re-typed by Miss Cather, and again revised before being turned over to a professional typist. The last copy is subject to many corrections and changes and is then ready for the printer. On the proof sheets much elimination and condensation takes place. All of which shows that Miss Cather's vigorous, terse style, keen sense of fine meanings in words, and gripping characterization have not been gained without labor.

Lincoln State Journal, 2 November 1921.