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Friday, January 16, 2015

Writer of the Prairie

“To note an artist’s limitations is but to define her talent.  A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to her view, but a creative writer can do her best only with what lies within the range and character of her deepest sympathies.” – Willa Cather

Born in Virginia but raised on the prairies of Nebraska, Willa Cather always said her writing was greatly affected by her “growing up years” and the vastness of the prairieland that surrounded her – experiences she used extensively in her novels and short stories.

And, when she compares reporting to creative writing, she also knows of what she speaks.  She started writing as a reporter for the Nebraska State Journal and then did a stint on the magazine Home Monthly before serving as drama critic and telegraph editor for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Leader.  After moving on to McClure’s in New York City, she got serious about her creative writing and in the 19-teens did her famous “Prairie Trilogy” of O Pioneers!, Song of the Lark, and My Antonia, some of the best realism written about the life and blend of people on the Great Plains.

In the 1920s she won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, and then wrote what I’ve always thought was one of her best, Death Comes for the Archbishop.
I’ve always felt a sort-of kinship to Cather, having both grown up on the prairieland myself and based on a story that my mother told me about reading the Prairie Trilogy leading up to and even on the day of my birth in 1947 – just a week after Cather’s death.  She always told me:  “If you want to know your roots, read Willa Cather.”

And so, once more, I am.  Good stuff!  Happy writing (and reading). 

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