Hello, Old Friend…

 

I’m talking about you, Willa Cather. Willa Cather Aren’t you the one who said, “Where there is great love, there are always miracles?” And wasn’t it H. L. Mencken who said about you that, “no romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Antonia.” She may be a bit old fashioned to read, not unlike Edna Ferber or Sinclair Lewis (have you read Dodsworth lately, or ever?); but reading these books are a real treat. They are a cool read for a Summer afternoon.

Such stories seem anachronistic in present-day America, but the monumental rigors of pioneer life are still a vivid memory for many on the Plains. Willa Cather’s My Antonia is about the hardy people who risked their lives and fortunes in a harsh new land; Cather had the great good fortune to have lived among the first generation of white settlers in 1880s Nebraska, and she gives witness to their time and place in such a way that American literature will never forget them.

My Antonia, following O Pioneers (1913) and The Song of the Lark (1915), completes the trilogy of Cather’s best-known Nebraska novels. Critic H. L. Mencken thought My Antonia to be the most accomplished and, reviewing it in 1919, shortly after it was published, he wrote, “her style has lost self-consciousness; her feeling for form has become instinctive. And she has got such a grip upon her materials… I know of no novel that makes the remote folk of the Western prairies more real… and I know of none that makes them seem better worth knowing.”

From GOODREADS: Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virgina (Gore) in December 7, 1873. Her novels on frontier life brought her to national recognition. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, One of Ours (1922), set during World War I. She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal.

Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. After graduation in 1894, she worked in Pittsburgh as writer for various publications and as a school teacher for approximately 13 years, thereafter moving to New York City for the remainder of her life. She traveled widely and often spent summers in New Brunswick, Canada. In later life, she experienced much negative criticism for her conservative politics and became reclusive, burning some of her letters and personal papers, including her last manuscript. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943. In 1944, Cather received the gold medal for fiction from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an award given once a decade for an author’s total accomplishments. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 73 in New York City.

My favorite is O Pioneers, although I do enjoy reading, and rereading, My Antonia. Perhaps you would like to give my old friend a try. I hop you like it. And don’t foget, I have lots of old friends. Just ask me about them.

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Nancy’s first job was as a page in the Peninsula Public Library in Lawrence, NY. Her love of reading brought her back to libraries and she has now worked at the Fanwood Memorial Library for over 13 years. Nancy wears many hats here at the library including planning and supervising of adult and teen programming, other YA and teen activities, book selection and buying, working behind the circulation desk and more. Her hobbies include baking, and she once won the NJN Chocolate bake-off contest for her famous “La Grande Park Ice Skating Rink Cookies”. If you see her walking to work, or at the library, say hi… and ask her for that recipe).

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