As regular readers of this blog know, the 2013 publication of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather was a Big Deal. The editors of that volume, Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, are part of the team that’s been digitizing all of Cather’s known letters. This project, know as The Complete Letters of Willa Cather, is through the Willa Cather Archive at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The Complete Letters of Willa Cather just went live today with 428 letters. More letters are being added regularly. Jewell wrote in a Cather Listserv email that the team’s goal is to have 1,500 letters posted by the fall and all letters up by 2021. There are 3,074 currently known letters.
Lest you think that is rather slow progress, these are not just letters that have been typed and uploaded to a webpage. Far from it. Each letter is fully annotated and contextualized. Take, for example, this letter Cather wrote to her father —
Visit the letter’s page and on the top right you can click on the fingernail images and see a facsimile of the letter (and try to read Cather’s handwriting). Then there’s the text of the letter and below that are annotations of all the people and places mentioned in the letter, complete with images (these are also hyper-linked within the text). Holy context, Batman! And these are just the main bells and whistles. You can search the letters by keyword and also filter them by Date (range), Place Letter was Written, Recipient, and Cather’s Works Mentioned.
Many of us are still basking in the glow of the publication of The Selected Letters and now to have this amazing resource at one’s finger tips? Well, it’s a cornucopia of Cather.
It is definitely an exciting time for Cather scholars and enthusiasts, both old hats and those just beginning to explore their interest in this author. Such immediate access to Cather’s letters will no doubt revolutionize Cather Studies. Until very recently it wasn’t legal to quote directly from Cather’s letters. This amazing resource provides rich context, both written and visual, for Cather’s life, work, and the time period.
The project is supported by National Endowment for the Humanities the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and with the cooperation of Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud, Nebraska.
For those of you who prefer to read in book format, I do highly recommend The Selected Letters of Willa Cather. When that collection was published I read around in the volume, dipping in here and there, scanning the index for subjects of interest, etc. Last month I started reading the letters chronologically, a few each night before bed, and they’re a delight. You really get a sense of who Cather was, how her understanding of her material developed, and the way she moved among friends, family, and in the publishing world.
I do hope you check out the Complete Letters of Willa Cather: https://cather.unl.edu/letters/