The Selected Letters of Willa Cather

Today is big, big day in American letters–the release date for one of the most important books in recent literary history, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout.

Visit the UNL library website here tonight at 7pm CST to watch a live video celebration of the book’s release.

I’ve been excited about the release of other books. I’ve stood in line at midnight release parties. I’ve stood outside waiting for bookstores to open in the morning. But when I first heard that some of Willa Cather’s letters were to be published I yelled in excitement at my computer monitor. It frightened my dog.

Much has been made of the fact that these letters are being published against her wishes, but even Cather knew that she could not forestall the inevitable. Editors Jewell and Stout explain that Cather’s “will itself envisions a moment when her preferences would not rule the day; acknowledging her inability to govern publication decisions indefinitely from beyond the grave, it leaves the decisions for publication “to the sole and uncontrolled discretion of my Executors and Trustee” (ix).

I’ve been reading my way through the letters. They are refreshing. It is rather thrilling to get a sense of Cather’s personality from her own words. I won’t presume to write anything more than that at this time, but I do recommend this article about the book by Jennifer Schuessler from The New York Times.

If you’re curious about Cather’s letter I can’t imagine a better introduction to them than these 10 short videos featuring editor Andy Jewell from the The University of Nebraska Archives. Each video is only 1-2 minutes long. In each Jewell talks a bit about what was going on in Cather’s life at a particular time and then a female voice reads one of Cather’s letters. Great pictures of Cather, the letters, and/or from the period provide backdrop. One of my favorites is number six where Cather pokes fun at her growing fame.

1 Series Overview
2 Precocious–1888, the first letter in the collection, Cather at 14
3 Sarcastic–1896 to a college friend upon moving to Pittsburgh
4 Frustrated–1908 to Sarah Orne Jewett 1908
5 Confident–1912 to S. S. McClure
6 Funny–1919 to her mother
7 Intimate–1936 to her partner Edith Lewis
8 Opinionated–1937 to Zoe Akins
9 Fragile–1938 to Roscoe Cather
10 Reflective–1947 to E.K. Brown, her first biographer

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather
Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, editors
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, April 16, 2013
Source: uncorrected proof supplied by the publisher

Full disclaimer: I went to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln for my master’s degree and drank the water: I am a die hard Willa Cather fan, but am getting no free stuff from UNL to promote this book. The publisher, Knopf, did send me an uncorrected proof of the book, but only after I begged. I’m also purchasing a copy of this book (my local bookstore has a copy on hold for me) so that I’ll have the “real thing.” I’m looking forward to seeing the index of this book (uncorrected proofs often don’t have all the bells & whistles).


  1. I'm also VERY excited!

    I pre-ordered my copy, but it hasn't made it here yet. I know I'm going to dive in as soon as it arrives.

  2. It is such a thrill to read her letters and get a more direct feel for her personality. Definite proof that Cather wasn't a disengaged, anti-social, curmudgeon! Hope your copy arrives very soon…you will be in bliss.

  3. Thanks! I'm just the sort of slobbering fan Cather probably would not have appreciated. But in my fantasy where time travel becomes reality the two of us having a languorous diner over which we discuss literature and current events. I am calm, witty, and articulate. We bond. 🙂

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