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Return to Interviews Table of Contents Source File: cat.bohlke.i.10.xml

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

Selected and edited by L. Brent Bohlke

Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986

1921: OMAHA

The Omaha Bee interview, aiming at a certain comprehensiveness, covers more biography. It is also filled with errors. In editing this particular piece, titles have been regularized, but otherwise the interview is reprinted just as it appeared. Some of the mistakes may have been the typesetter's, but some are obviously the interviewer's. Not only is Cather's name consistently misspelled but the dates of her graduation and employment with "McClure" magazine are in error. "The Bohemian Girl" is cited as a book. Cather's plans, which she may not have made clear, were to go to Lincoln before returning to New York, rather than fleeing from the stage, as implied in the article. It may well have been this type of error and misinformation, which occurs frequently in her interviews but rarely in such concentration, that led Cather to be more niggardly in granting them.


Willa Cathers, one of the foremost American women writers of the modem school, will have it distinctly understood that she is not an eastern, western, northern or southern writer, but first and foremost a Nebraskan.

When questioned as to why she considered herself a Nebraskan after so many years abroad and in the east, she replied, "Because my father and mother still live in Nebraska. They have lived here for 30 odd years, and because I came to Nebraska when I was 8 and lived here until I finished college at 19, and the years from 8 to 15 are the formative period of a writer's life, when he unconsciously gathers basic material."

"He may acquire a great many interesting and vivid impressions in his mature years, she continued, but his thematic material, he acquires under 15 years of age. Other writers will tell you this."

"Lord Dunsany once told me that he believed he had never used any basic material he had acquired after his 15th year."

Willa Cathers, when 8 years old, came with his father and mother from Winchester, Va., where she was born, to what she described as one of the most picturesque places of the country, to Nebraska, near Red Cloud, in the southern part of the state.

"This country was mostly wild pasture and as naked as the back of your hand," said the author. "I was little and homesick and lonely and my mother was homesick and nobody paid any attention to us. So the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn, that shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and the curse of my life."

Miss Cathers has taken an apartment in Paris with some friends, but she is skeptical about remaining there, for as she recalled Paris last autumn, when the leaves were turning yellow on the cottonwoods along the boulevards, she said she would sit by the Seine and feel weepy and homesick for the Republican valley. "I always come back to Nebraska," she concluded.

Willa Cathers graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1905 with a B. A. degree. The following year she went east and held the position of telegraph editor on the Pittsburgh Leader for three years.

In 1908 she accepted a position as managing editor of the McClure magazine and remained in that position until 1912.

"Those four years were used in preparing myself to write the sort of book I had always wanted to, for during this time I did but little writing," said Miss Cathers. She was abroad much of the time while connected with the McClure magazine.

In 1912 Miss Cathers resigned to take up a home in Cherry Valley, N. Y. "I moved there to write without molestation and in the way I had been preparing myself for," she said.

During this period her books, Alexander's Bridge and "Bohemian Girl" appeared serially in McClures. Then followed O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, Youth and the Bright Medusa, and My Ántonia. The latter book is said by many to be the most brilliant of her literary efforts. It is written with the Bohemian settlement near her home in Red Cloud, as the background.

Willa Cathers' latest work, to be published some time next summer, has just been completed while she visited at her home in Red Cloud. The title is One of Ours.

Miss Cathers will lecture before the Omaha Society of Fine Arts this afternoon at 4, in the ballroom of the Hotel Fontenelle.

She will leave immediately after for Chicago and the east where she will make final plans for the publication of her latest work. She plans to leave for Europe early in the spring.

Omaha Bee, 29 October 1921.