Cather, who had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of Ours, attended the 1933 awards ceremony held May 4 at the Hotel Plaza in New York City. William Lyon Phelps, Professor of English at Yale University, introduced winners from past years, who had been asked to speak briefly about the category for which they had won. Cather represented the Novel, and General John J. Pershing, who had been a military instructor at the University of Nebraska during Cather's years there, represented History; he had won the prize the previous year for My Experiences in the World War.
The awards were broadcast on NBC radio, and the speeches (or portions of them) were recorded on two 12-inch bare aluminum disks. The precise origins of these disks are unknown, but they may have been part of an extensive recording project that was taking place at Columbia University. They are currently in the University's Speech Lab Archives Collection at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (records 82 and 83). Sometime during the 1980's the speeches were transferred to reel-to-reel tape and deposited at the Library of Congress. It is from these Library of Congress tapes that the Cather Archive's digital copies were derived.
Because Pershing's comments include a reminiscence of Cather, we have included his speech below. In her opening comments, Cather mentions another past winner, Henry James (son of philosopher William James and nephew of novelist Henry James), who had won for Biography in 1931. Other recorded speeches not presented here are by Robert Frost (Poetry 1931), Allan Nevins (Biography 1933), and James Truslow Adams (History 1922).
A different version of Cather's speech, transcribed from a typescript at the Princeton University Library, appears in L. Brent Bohlke's Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, and Letters.
For permission to present the sound recordings on the Archive and for information regarding their provenance, we are deeply grateful to Jean Ashton (Director) and Jane Siegel (Curator) of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.M.C.'s introduction and Cather's speech (running time: 10:49):