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#1214: Willa Cather to Carrie Miner Sherwood, January 27, 1934

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ My dear Carrie1:

Mr. Cyril Clemens3, son4 of Mark Twain5, is President of the International Mark Twain Society, to which men of letters in all countries belong. The Society recently held a contest to decide what is the most memorable and representative American novel in the last thirty-five years, the writer of this novel to be awarded a silver medal by the Mark Twain Society. The majority votes were for ANTONIA6, and the medal is waiting for me in St. Louis7 whenever I have time to go and get it.

Out of a number of reports on ANTONIA which were sent to the Society, there is one8 which I think you might like to have (chiefly because it is so well written) to keep in your copy of ANTONIA. Now, don’t show it to the town9 cats or put it in the paper, or do anything to make [missing] and [missing] cakeswant to scratch my eyes out any worse than they do. Of course, I want you to show it to Mary10, and you might show it to Helen Mac.11 some time, because I know neither of them wants to murder me. I want you to have it because it particularly takes notice of the fact that, though there have been many imitations of ANTONIA and some of them good, I really was the one who first broke the ground.

Oh yes, there is another reason why I don’t want you to show this article about; a lot of our fellow townsmen would go chasing out to look poor Annie12 over and would agree as to what a liar I am. You never can get it through peoples heads that a story is made out of an emotion or an excitement, and is not made out of the legs and arms and faces of one’s friends or acquaintances. TWO FRIENDS13, for instance, was not really made out of your father14 and Mr. Richardson15; it was made out of an effect they produced on a little girl who used to hang about them. The story, as I told you, is a picture; but it is not the picture of two men, but of a memory. Many things about both men are left out of this sketch because they made no impression on me as a child; other things are exaggerated because they seemed just like that to me then.

As for ANTONIA, she is really just a figure upon which other things hang. She is the embodiment of all my feelings about those early emigrants in the prairie county. The first thing I heard of when I got to Nebraska16 at the age of eight was old Mr. Sadalaak's17 suicide, which had happened some years before. It made a great impression on me. People never stopped telling the details. I suppose from that time I was destined to write ANTONIA if I ever wrote anything at all.


Now I don’t often write, even to my dearest friends, about my own work, but you just tuck this away where you can read it and when people puzzle you, or come at you and say that I idealize everything and exaggerate everything, you can turn to this letter and comfort yourself. The one and sole reason that my “exaggerations” get across, get across a long way (ANTONIA has now been translated into eight languages), is that these things were not exaggerations to me. I felt just like that about all those early people. If I had exaggerated my real feeling or stretched it one inch, the whole book would have fallen as flat as a pancake, and would have been a little ridiculous. There is just one thing you cannot fake or counterfeit in this world, my dear Carrie, and that is real feeling, feeling in people who try to govern their hearts with their heads.

I did not start out to write you a long lecture, but some day I might get bumped off by an automobile, and then you’d be glad to have a statement which is just as true as I have the power to make it.

My heart to you always, Willie

P.S. I had a wonderful afternoon with Irene18 when she was here, and I am so happy that she and Mr. Weisz19 are going to escape from this troubled part of the world. Isn’t he a good sport?