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#3220: Transcription of Letter from Willa Cather to Marjorie Ruth Hurtubise, [1942]

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on radio brodcast of
My Antonia
COPY Marjorie Ruth Hurtubise1 National Broadcasting Company R C A Building Radio City2 My dear Miss Hurtubise,

I absolutely believe in the truthfulness and sincerity of your letter: I have known so many stories very like your own. I myself came to New York with very little money and took a position which I knew was temporary * * * * * * * *

I am glad that MY ANTONIA3 was of some service to you in your college days. One is always glad to help a young student through college.

Your letter leads up to a business proposition to which I can not give my consent, no matter what the fees offered might be. I have no agent, so there is no one for the N B C representative to persuade but me myself. And on this point I am unpersuadable. I do not want money and I do not want publicity. I have been offered absurd sums of money for the moving picture rights of my books. If I had written plays I would be willing to sell the cinema rights. Play-writing is a severe and splendid art – when it is an art. But the making over of novels into plays or films is not an art but a kind of carpentry.

My books are written for an old-fashioned form of entertainment – namely, to be read with the eye. They are not written to be seen on the stage or to be interpreted by even the most friendly voice – over the radio. In making such an arrangement as you suggest; i.e., a three or five-day weekly radio program constructed from MY ANTONIA, you would become my collaborator – you must see that. You would become more than a collaborator, you would become the censor and final authority. The voice can heartily stress a passage which the writer wished to keep very low in tone – pianissimo. Your arrangement might be totally contradictory to my idea of form in that book. And your arrangement Hurtubise #2 (and emphasis) would, you tell me, reach fifty million people. My dear girl, I don’t want to reach fifty million people. I don’t write for fifty million people. I write for people who like to read with their eye and who like to reflect upon what they read. I am perfectly satisfied with my modest audience and my modest income. I certainly do not want to be advertised or thrust upon the fifty million.

You tell me that you have been successful in publicizing book reviews over the radio. That is an entirely different use of the radio from the one you suggest inflicting upon ANTONIA. Any sort of news (about books or fashions or ) sent out over the radio seems to me perfectly legitimate, but no one has a right to reproduce and condense, edit, and practically decide the form in which a book shall be presented to the public when that book was written by another person. I have a well defined legal defense to meet such a proposition, since the same proposition has come up before regarding this book and other books. But I am sure you are not the kind of person to require me to press the point through a legal channel. (Excuse a shocking mixed metaphor.) As I have said, I am heartily glad that this book was of some assistance to you in your college days, but now you face me with a proposition from a great business corporation and ask me to give you a legal permission to use one of my books in a business way, and to this I must give my absolute and final refusal.

With cordial good wishes, I am