Reviews — From the May 2013 issue

Making a Scene

Willa Cather’s correspondence

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Discussed in this essay:

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. Knopf. 720 pages. $37.50.

From an early age Willa Cather had a talent for making a scene. When an elderly judge dropped in at the family farm in Virginia and dared to address her in the cutesy tones he thought suitable for little girls, she corrected him straight away: “I’se a dang’ous nigger, I is!” In her teenage years she cut her hair short, took to wearing boys’ clothes, and began calling herself William Cather Jr., sometimes promoting herself to the more august William Cather, M.D. Christened Wilella at birth, she gave herself the nickname Willa, though later in life it didn’t satisfy. The creator of Ántonia, Thea, and Sapphira confessed to a fan in 1936 that “if I had known, when I first began to write, that my name would be printed about a good deal, I would certainly have changed it to Mary or Jane, or Janet.”

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’s last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Mental Weather,” appeared in the November 2012 issue.


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