April Reminder  • Willa Cather Short Story Project

Cather birth home for sale

Before we get into this month’s story reminder for the Willa Cather Short Story Project, I want to share news of a campaign to help purchase and save Cather’s birth home in Gore, Virginia. Gore is about 10 miles from the City of Winchester.

On April 7th, The Winchester Star, published this article, “Can Willa Cather’s birthplace be saved? Property being listed for sale next week.” In a nutshell, the man who owned the property died in December and his heir is now selling it. The Cather family in Virginia is scrambling to raise funds to buy the property and stabilize the home, which, as you can see, is in bad shape. Although the home is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, it is still vulnerable to demolition. Collapse from neglect doesn’t look too far away, either.

Here’s the link to their GoFundMe campaign: https://gofund.me/30eb5330

Please help by spreading the word and contributing if you can.

Now, on to our regularly scheduled programing.

El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional by Willa Cather

Our story for April is “El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional,” first published in New England Magazine in June 1901. It is on the long side, just over 8,300 words, and features a character from Winchester, Virginia.

It is free to read on the Willa Cather Archive: https://cather.unl.edu/writings/shortfiction/ss043

In a 1938 reply letter to literary scholar Edward Wagenknect about “El Dorado” and a few other stories, Cather claims that one of her college professors had added local color to her compositions and sent them off to publishers without telling her. She writes,

The story “Eldorado” [“El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional”], though it was written much later [than “On the Divide], was sent to the same professor and highly retouched by him. He was older by that time, and so was I,—but we were neither of us any wiser. I will say for myself however, that I had no intention of publishing the story. It was the result of a kind of correspondence course which I kept up with this young man after I left college. The other stories which I have marked out as wholly or partially spurious, were the collective effort of a club of four youngsters, of whom I was one, who worked on Pittsburgh newspapers. The reason that the stories were sent about under my name was that, thanks to the young professor to whom I have just referred, I had had several stories printed in magazines while the other members had not. The New England Magazine did not pay for contributions, any more than did the Overland Monthly, so there were no profits to be shared. I had almost entirely forgotten about this little club of newspaper youngsters, but we had a jolly time collaborating, and the results, though worthless enough, did nobody any harm.

Cather, Willa. The Selected Letters of Willa Cather (pp. 564-565). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Cather was writing in response to some questions Wagenknect had about several of her early stories. She goes on to write that, “The first published story which was altogether my own work was “A Death in the Desert” (564). That story was published in 1903. We read it for the Willa Cather Short Story Project in December 2019.

Do you believe that this was a collaborative story or is Cather trying to distance herself from earlier work? She also downplayed her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge (1912). Nathaniel Hawthorne also gave the cold-shoulder to his first novel Fanshawe (1828). Both are good novels, but not did not measure up to their writer’s more mature standards for themselves.

What’s next?

Read “El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional” sometime this month and come back to discuss it on the response post I’ll share on April 26, the fourth Wednesday of the month. Or, feel free to read it now and comment here if you can’t wait until then!

New to this blog? Learn more about the Willa Cather Short Story Project here. In a nutshell, we read one Cather short story a month. I remind everyone of what story we’re reading on the second Wednesday of the month and then share a response on the fourth Wednesday of the month. Jump in anytime!


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