As an adolescent, Willa Cather defied the norms for girls: she cut her hair short, wore trousers, and openly rebelled against the roles girls were supposed to play. At the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, she edited the school magazine and published articles and play reviews in local papers. After graduating, she languished awhile in Red Cloud until she was offered a position editing Home Monthly in Pittsburgh. While editing that magazine, she wrote short stories to fill its pages. These stories, published in a collection called the Troll Garden in 1905, brought her to the attention of S.S. McClure. She became a member of the staff of McClure’s Magazine and finally, its editor.
In 1912, after five years with McClure’s, she left the magazine to have time for her own writing. She subsequently published her first five novels. These novels announced her themes of strong women, the fight against provincial life, and the dying of the pioneer tradition. This was the period of O Pioneers (1913), Song of the Lark (1915), My Antonia (1918), One of Ours (1922), and A Lost Lady (1922). She won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours. After this prolific period, Cather entered a period of despair. It was a time, she said, when the world broke apart. Recovering from this difficult period, she wrote her greatest novels: The Professor’s House (1925), My Mortal Enemy (1926), Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), and “Shadows on the Rock” (1931). These works are the best example of her classic and restrained language and her lyrical evocation of nature.
There always seemed to exist a tension in Willa Cather’s life and, thus, in her writing. She was drawn to the East coast, its mountains and cities. And, she was drawn to the plains and the vastness of Nebraska. She loved the romantic literature of France, yet her own writing style was one of classic restraint.
Most of her work is autobiographical in nature, yet before she died she ordered her letters burned so no one could have access to her. She had a large circle of friends, yet to write she needed the solitude of Nebraska or New Hampshire. Red Cloud, Nebraska, her home, both attracted and repelled her; it was also the source of her art.