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#1377: Willa Cather to Zoë Akins, October 28 [1937]

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ My Very Dear Zoë1;

The book3 came, some days after your letter. If the gracious inscription on the front page is true, I thank God for it—and your own generous mind. I read the book through in bed, after tea, which is an hour I save for things I really want to read. If I told you I liked it as much as I like your first book of verse4 written long ago, you'd know I was lying. For you yourself know it's not so good. It's not so singing. The lyric - - - something isn't here. Single lines don't echo and stay in one's mind just because they somehow had the rythm rythm one's heart had then. You've gone and got thoughtful, like as Edna Millay5 has! You've grown wiser in almost every way, my dear, but wisdom doesn't seem to have much to do with Poetry.

Yes, you've grown wiser in every way except in the matter of self-protection. You will give the people who hate you a chance to vent their spite. I hope you won't offer a new play in New York2 this season. Is there no place to put on plays except New York or some place where New York press men are taken thither by force? You'll never get a fair showing from them—your plays are not the kind they like. You're a romantic, and your hue is not the wear just now. The young men who "cover the theatre" have a grudge—and I'm afraid you have played into their hands a little. You have been indiscreet enough to write articles or letters to the paper explaining yourself—which always means defending oneself. The safe thing would be to present a hard and stony face to critics, not to take them into your confidence—and thats what you do when you reply to them. I, too, have my haters—they ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ go for me every time they can; messers Chamberlain6, Trilling7, Kronborg8, Kaysmere9—oh there are a lot of them. If ever I replied to them, or wrote articles setting forth my views and defending the kind of "art" I believe in, I think even Alfred Knopf10 would soon be trying to pass this brick along to another publisher, for he would come in for some of the ridicule. The nearest I have come to such a break was that article11 on Miss Jewett12 in Not Under Forty13. It wasn't a near break, (I may as well be truthful) it was a whole break. Nearly a hundred furious letters, and sly digs from the press generally, have shown me how foolish it is to make public a credo—one's articles of faith ought to be the most protected of one's secrets. Some of these horrid14 New York University graduates, all with foreign names and more foreign manners, had been publishing some of the most horrid articles about her and about "sex-starvation" in New England15 writers generally. Provincial ladies and lady-like men. It made me angry and I broke out. Silly performance. Now I have learned that if one is consistently silent where one's own self is concerned, one must be silent when one's friends are attacked. They reflect one's point of view, one's admirations—to speak for them is, in a manner, to speak for one's self.

With you the case is more serious than with me. New York book reviews have very little influence outside New York. Those in the "New Republic"16 and the "Nation"17 have I suppose, but I really don't care. The theatrical first night reviews are read everywhere by the small city Sunday editors and repeated—in print. I may be wrong, but I feel you ought not to bring out a new play here for a year or two. You don't have to—so why not keep out from under the ax? Of course, if you ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ show this letter to George O'Neill18 or any other theatrical person, they'll tell you it's all nonsense. But they would be letting themselves off easy, and I am telling you an unpleasant truth—never an easy or pleasant thing to do. The New York theatrical writers have a grudge, have it in for you. Since you are certainly prosperous and don't have to submit to punishment, why do you? A book, if it's universally damned like as the "Archbishop"19 was, can go quietly on and sell its five hundred thousand and keep selling. But a play can't go quietly on by itself. There's a big overhead. It can be kicked of the stage and buried in a week—a night, for that matter.

My dear Zoë, I'll put you on your honor to show this letter to no one. In preaching discretion to you, I've been indiscreet myself. I've been to honest because I want to save you pain, and because I feel it must be better for your reputation on the Pacific coast not to have these knocks coming back from New York. I've been thinking for a year about writing this letter. If a friend knows you're up against a clique of prejudice and spite, it's that friend's business to tell you so, even if it's a mighty unpleasant job. As for this the letter (now it's written), read it, destroy it, forget it if it is painful. And let the next Willy-boy actor or Russian Prince you talk to persuade you that every play you write will have a cordial fair greeting by the New York Press.

Now I'm tired, my dear, and must say goodnight.

Your True though Tactless friend W. S. C.
Mrs. Hugo Rumbold1 2041 Brigden Road Pasadena20 California NEW YORK, N.Y. STA Y2 OCT 30 1937 430 PM