September 2020 Reminder for The Willa Cather Short Story Project

This month we’re not going to read a short story by Willa Cather, but rather an essay by George N. Kates about the last story she was working on before she died. This piece, “Willa Cather’s Unfinished Avignon Story,” rounds out Willa Cather: Collected Stories that many of us have been reading from, as well as Phase One of this reading project.

In his essay Kates states that the Avignon manuscript (working title “Hard Punishments”) no longer exists. However, since writing his essay in the 1950s, fragments of the story have surfaced in the papers of Cather’s nephew. If you’re interested, check out “Toward Completing a Triptych: The “Hard Punishments” Fragments” by John J. Murphy in the Fall 2011 Willa Cather Newsletter & Review. Murphy’s article includes the story fragments which are now housed in the Charles E. Cather Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

George N. Kates (Source: Guggenheim)

George N. Kates was not a Cather scholar. He’s know more for his work on pre-revolutionary Beijing and Chinese furniture. Although I know we’re not supposed to take Wikipedia as gospel, his life as outlined on his page sounds fascinating.

In addition to the essay we’re reading this month, Kates also wrote the introduction and notes for Willa Cather in Europe: Her Own Story of the First Journey (1956). This is a collection of 14 travel pieces that Cather wrote for the Nebraska State Journal on her first trip to Europe in 1902.

What’s Next?

Read “Willa Cather’s Unfinished Avignon Story” sometime this month. I’ll have a response post up on Wednesday, September 23rd. Come back to share your thoughts about the essay on that post or, if you can’t wait, feel free to leave a comment here.

Happy Reading!

New to this blog? 

Learn more about the Willa Cather Short Story Project here. In a nutshell, we’re reading one Cather short story a month. I remind everyone what story we’re reading on the second Wednesday of the month and then share a response to that story on the fourth Wednesday of the month, which I hope sparks conversation about the story.


  1. I realized today as I was listening to the latest episode of The Book Cougars that for the first time I missed reading the monthly story. I have read The Professor’s House twice so I have read Tom Outland’s Story, but I will now read the last 2 selections in my copy of Collected Stories.

        • Oh, good! I’m glad you signed up. I’m looking forward to it. The Professor’s House is a favorite for many — I think you’ll enjoy it. It has many of Cather’s themes but is so very different from her other novels. I’ll say no more for now. 🙂

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