Recap: Willa Cather Weekend on Governors Island

Last weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Willa Cather Foundation (WCF). The WCF’s headquarters is located in Red Cloud, Nebraska. I live in Connecticut. If I lived closer I’d regularly volunteer in some capacity, so when the call came out for volunteers in the Greater New York City area, I jumped on it.

Why was the WCF in New York? The Empire State Center for the Book is sponsoring a pop-up location on Governors Island, which is just off the tip of Manhattan. Each weekend a different author organization or literary group has set up shop to talk with visitors about their mission.

Willa Cather is so deeply associated with Nebraska that many people don’t know that she lived most of her adult life in New York City. In 2011 Cather was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame (which was established in 2010 by the Empire State Center for the Book) and so the WCF was invited to host a weekend at the pop-up.

I had such a fun time meeting folks from the WCF and talking with them and all the visitors who stopped by. Here are some photos from the weekend.

Willa Cather Foundation on Governors Island (
This Friend of Willa was up with the sun to catch a train to Grand Central Terminal.
Battery Maritime Building (
The beautiful Battery Maritime Building, built in 1909. Considered an example of Beaux Arts Structural Expressionism.
Battery Maritime Building - Ferry to Governors Island (
Boarding the Ferry at Battery Maritime Building – Ferry to Governors Island.
Ferry to Governors Island (
On the ferry. Can you see the Statue of Liberty in the background?
Ferry to Governors Island (
Approaching the dock at Governors Island.
View of Manhattan from Governors Island (
The view looking back on Manhattan.
Brooklyn Bridge from Governors Island (
The views from Governors Island are a delight. Here is the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan on the left, Brooklyn on the right
NYPD Museum - 1960s Paddy Wagon (
A 1960s paddy wagon in front of the NYPD Museum on Governors Island. It has separate holding cells for women and men. Prior to the 1970s, NYPD vehicles were green.
Nolan Park Governors Island (
There is lots of neat architecture on the island. This building sits on the edge of Nolan Park which contains duplex homes for officers. I’m assuming the duplex homes were for married officers and wonder if this building housed unmarried officers.
Governors Island Plaque (
Governors Island plaque. I read elsewhere that the plaques on the island — other than battlefield fatality numbers — are riddled with factual erros, so take this one with a grain of salt.
Willa Cather Foundation on Governors Island (
The Empire State Center for the Book House is in one of the 19th-century yellow officer’s duplex homes that line the water’s edge in Nolan Park.  The Willa Cather Foundation’s weekend home is on the right-hand side of the building.
Ashley Olson and Robert Thacker on Governors Island (
Ashley Olson, Executive Director of the Willa Cather Foundation, introduces Professor Robert Thacker who gave a talk on Cather’s poetry.
Tom Gallagher on Governors Island (
Tom Gallagher, past president of the Willa Cather Foundation and current editor of the Willa Cather Newsletter & Review, movingly reads from My Antonia.
Ashley Olson and Tracy Tucker on Governors Island (
Ashley Olson and Tracy Tucker, Education Director & Archivist of the Willa Cather Foundation, reading selections from Cather’s fiction.
Liggett Hall on Governors Island (
The impressive Liggett Hall, Army barracks for enlisted men, is 350,000 square feet. Built in 1929.
Food Vendors on Governors Island (
Food vendors.
Picnics on Governors Island (
There are cultural happenings on Governors Island and some folks simply come for a day of picnics, walks, and bike rides around the island.
Fallout Shelter on Governors Island (
A serious reminder.
Colonels Row on Governors Island (
Colonels Row. You’d never guess that the hustle and bustle of Manhattan is just a short ferry ride away.
View of Manhattan from Fort Jay (
A view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers from Fort Jay. Those modern buildings are actually across the harbor. Fort Jay was built in 1794 and is cared for by The National Park Service along with Castle Williams. More on those structures in a future post.
Willa Cather Foundation and Empire State Center for the Book (
The Willa Cather Foundation’s home for the weekend had a lovely porch where we spent most of our time. It was such fun to hang out and talk with visitors about the life and work of Willa Cather and the mission of the Foundation. We even had international visitors from France, Italy, and Spain.
Empire State Center for the Book schedule on Governors Island (
The Empire State Center for the Book schedule. Rumor has it that more programming has been added through October, but the website hasn’t yet been updated (check the link below for possible updates).
Sunset at Battery Maritime Building (
End of the day, easing back into the slip at Battery Maritime Terminal.
Battery Maritime Building Detail (
Architectural detail of the Battery Maritime Terminal. Even if you have no plans to head over to Governors Island, walk by and check out this beautiful building. But you really should take a trip to Governors Island!

I hope you enjoyed this brief recap of Cather Weekend on Governors Island. It’s an amazing place to visit and I hope you have a chance to make it there. I also hope you check out Cather’s work.

Some links:

Stay tuned for my next post about Willa Cather in New York City.


  1. Thank you for your sharing your day – and introducing us to the Centre for the Book. Such an interesting events program. Wish we had one of those here in Sydney (Australia). Cather is a big favourite of mine.

    • Thanks for checking out my post. Is Cather relatively well known in Australia? Did you come across her in school? I have cousins in Sydney — a visit is definitely on my “bucket list.”

  2. Great photos! Looks like it was a fun trip. I need to read more of Willa Cather’s work. I read My Antonia over a decade ago but nothing by her since then.

    • Thanks! I (obviously) adore Cather. Next year is the 100th anniversary of My Antonia’s publication, so there’ll be lots of celebration. I like all of her novels, but A Lost Lady is high on many people’s lists.

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