Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Author of the Prairie

Isaac Werner's Homestead Claim Today

It will come as no surprise to those of you who follow my blog that I love Willa Cather.  She was not a Kansan, but she didn't miss it by much, since she spent much of her youth in southcentral Nebraska.  She was born December 7, 1873 in Virginia, but in 1883 when Willa was only ten years old, the family arrived in Nebraska.  The farm on which they first settled was about 20 miles north of the Kansas border, but a year and a half later they moved 16 miles south to Red Cloud.  From a prairie farm to a prairie town, Cather came to know and love the prairie, and that love is revealed in much of her writing.

Somewhere I read an unattributed quote that goes like this:  Anyone can love the beauty of the mountains, but it takes someone special to love the prairie.  Cather certainly loved both and used both in her books, but she had a special feeling for the prairie.  That is why I wish more Kansans would read Cather.  Our state is not often the featured landscape for novelists, but the prairie is featured in many of Cather's short stories and novels, as is occasionally our state.

Some of those to whom I have recommended Cather have found the pace of her stories too slow.  It is true that they aren't action filled.  But, part of that is the result of her attention to setting, character, and particularly to descriptions of nature.  I might paraphrase the quote above:  It may be easier to love a book filled with action and adventure, but it is worth immersing yourself in a book filled with deep explorations of characters and setting.

Willa Cather

So, why is my New Years blog about Willa Cather?

During the era of covid-19, many of us have found ourselves at home, away from activities that would usually occupy our time.  Several of my friends have mentioned turning to books.  Perhaps this is a good time to try Willa Cather.

Although I have read all of her novels and many of her short stories, there remain stories that I have not read.  An internet friend and writer has created The Willa Cather Short Story Project, in which followers have the opportunity/challenge to read a Cather short story a month.  I signed up!  All of the stories are available at the Willa Cather Archive on line, so it is not necessary to buy any books.  Those who sign up can simply read along or can comment.  As my friend who has originated the project says:  "The point is to read Willa Cather with pleasure, whatever that looks like for you."

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Which brings me back to my particular love for Cather...for I just finished one of the short stories, "The Clemency of the Court," from which the following quote is taken.

The love of the plains was strong in him.  It had always been so, ever since he was a little fellow, when the brown grass was up to his shoulders and the straw stacks were the golden mountains of fairy land.  Men from the cities on the hills never understand this love, but the men from the plain country know what I mean.

This New Years blog is about using the opportunity that staying at home offers to read some of those books you have put off reading.  I know that many of you are already doing more reading than usual, but might it be fun to direct your reading in a particular way--to organize a personal project that you would enjoy during this unusual confinement at home.  I did that earlier with my marathon reading of all the Harry Potter series, and that was fun.  Maybe you have a set of Churchill's World War series or Sandburg's Lincoln that has been gathering dust.  Maybe it is poetry you prefer, and you could read a poem a day.

I understand that for some of us, the annual New Years resolution to go on a diet is needed this year more than ever! but maybe reading is a good way to keep your mind off the refrigerator too!  I will be reading Cather short stories as my resolution.  As I often do with my New Years post, you are invited to share your resolutions with me!


Deanna Lackaff said...

Read more Cather. Such a simple, positive resolution! Thanks for the reminder, Lyn. And do have a happy, healthy 2021!

The Blog Fodder said...

I love land so flat that on a clear day, if you stand on a pail, you can see the back of your head. Mountains and trees get in the way of the view. Happy New Year from a homesick flatlander.

Ana McCracken said...


What a wonderful New Years 2021 post. I particularly love the quote, "Anyone can love the beauty of the mountains, but it takes someone special to love the prairie." Since I rediscovered Cather in 2012 when I was on my way from Angle Fire, NM to Nebraska City, NE, I have found an inexplicable love of the prairie lands, the Great Plains, and Nebraska. Perhaps now that I know you in Kansas, I'll start detouring through Kansas to widen my scope of beauty.

Thank you for your thoughts on Willa, and I don't think I've ever welcomed a new year as I am welcoming 2021. I look forward to a year of writing with you and our other Cather writers.