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#1667: Willa Cather to Enit Zerner Kaufman, May 15, 1944

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ My dear Mrs. Kaufman1:

I am so sorry that you went to the trouble of writing me in detail. I should have written to you through Henry Holt3 as soon as I received Holt's announcement. But it is always unpleasant to make refusals, and one instinctively puts these unpleasant duties aside. I certainly appreciate your interest and Dorothy Canfield4's. I realize that you pay me a freiiendly compliment when you include me in the list for AMERICAN PORTRAITS5. I will try to tell you briefly why I do can not accept this friendly invitation. I honestly think that I do not belong in this list for AMERICAN PORTRAITS. Nearly all the names that appear in this list are the names of public persons, or of persons who have done very conspicuous public service, and have effectively interested themselves in activities for the betterment of our society. You see, I have done nothing of this sort. I belong to no clubs. I never go to public meetings. I do not even lecture.

I belong to a large family group. My brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and my personal friends take all my leisure time. Some twelve or fifteen years ago I was one of the twelve unfortunate women6, selected by a distinguished committee7, who appeared in full page portraits8 in Good Housekeeping9. For me the result was a correspondence that was very burdensome. Hundreds of letters poured in upon me, and a great many of them required courteous personal answers. Old schoolmates, distant relatives, kindly people whom I had known who knew one in some part of the United States10. These letters can not be answered by form letters. From this experience I learned a lesson. The better the advertising, the worse it is for me. It disturbs my life and my work too much. And this is why I can not give the sittings which you so kindly request.

Very cordially yours, Willa Cather