The Complete Letters of Willa Cather is an endeavor to create a digital, scholarly edition of Cather's entire body of correspondence. The project is supported by a Scholarly Editions grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and with the cooperation of Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud, Nebraska.
Willa Cather was a prolific letter writer, and the roughly 3,000 letters that remain today reflect her vibrant, forthright personality. With this project, Cather's complete correspondence will be edited for the first time for digital publication on the Willa Cather Archive. The first stage of the project will focus on preparing and publishing half of the known corpus of Cather's correspondence, or approximately 1,500 individual letters. The digital edition will feature texts prepared according to the best practices of digital scholarly editing: the letters will be transcribed and marked up in TEI P5 conformant XML and will be accompanied by high-quality digital images of original documents, full multimedia annotations, and innovative search and browsing features including automatically-generated indices of names, titles, and geographic locations. It is our hope that this edition will become an important resource for both scholars and the general reading public.
The Complete Letters will begin publication in early January 2018, the moment all of Cather's letters enter the public domain. Because of a prohibition in Cather's will, until very recently her letters could neither be published nor quoted from. However, a recent change in policy by the current literary executor, the Willa Cather Trust, permitted publication of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), co-edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. In the popular press, the book received broad attention. Reviewers and journalists repeatedly praised Cather's quality as a writer and expressed pleasure—and surprise—at discovering her private voice. However, the Selected Letters volume contains a small percentage of the total correspondence (less than 20%), is lightly annotated, and is designed for a general, non-scholarly readership. The glimpse into the correspondence afforded by the book has awakened scholars to the need to more fully understand the complete corpus, and the scholarly community has called for a full edition of her letters. In providing a full, digital edition of Cather's correspondence, The Complete Letters of Willa Cather will bring unprecedented access to the revealing personal voice of one of the most important figures in American literary history and will dramatically expand the corpus of Cather materials available to scholars, teachers, students, and general readers.
As Willa Cather's letters are surprisingly tweetable, we have created a Twitter presence for the project that features such moments as Cather's comments about her own writing, funny quips with her family members, and negotiations with publishers. For updates from the team and previews of the forthcoming Complete Letters of Willa Cather, follow the project on Twitter @HastilyCather.