Willa Cather’s life was as unconventional as her writing.
As a novelist, she put herself on the map by telling the stories of places and people unexplored by her literary peers – frontier life in Nebraska, pioneer women and immigrants to the Great Plains. And as a woman of the early 20th century, when women’s forays into the workforce were very limited, she charted an unlikely path to the top of the publishing and fiction-writing worlds.
Contemporary society can learn much from Cather’s life and literary works, said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cather scholar Andrew Jewell. In his March 26 Nebraska Lecture, “Our Cather Heritage,” Jewell will consider the characteristics that make the Pulitzer Prize-winning author a valuable and relevant figure today. The free, public lecture is 3:30 p.m. in the Nebraska Union auditorium, 1400 R St., with a reception following.
A live webcast is available here. For live updates, follow @UNLresearch or #neblecture on Twitter.
“It’s not that Cather was perfect,” said Jewell, University Libraries professor. “It’s her humanness, her ability to learn and grow after making mistakes, her profound reflection on what it means to live in the world, that invites people to think about life, their relationships and themselves in a deep and meaningful way.”
Beyond her personal qualities, Cather also remains relevant because her novels’ themes resonate clearly in the modern world. Issues that remain compelling today – immigration, the environment, society’s treatment of women – fill her works. Cather also considered questions that persist across time, such as the essence of art.
Jewell will synthesize examples from the author’s works, letters and life story to illuminate Cather’s enduring value, and to shine a light on the importance of the humanities more broadly. He said examining the lives of artists such as Cather – what motivates them, what they care about and what they consider meaningful – can be transformative.
“If we understand people and cultures in a richer way, it will inform and improve everything we do,” Jewell said.
Jewell joined the university in 2005. He is editor of the Willa Cather Archive, a widely accessible online resource for studying Cather’s life and writings, and co-editor of “The Complete Letters of Willa Cather,” a digital archive that by 2021 will include all of Cather’s more than 3,000 known letters. Jewell co-edited “The Selected Letters of Willa Cather,” which was named one of Time magazine’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2013.
His lecture is part of The Nebraska Lectures: Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series, sponsored by the Research Council, Office of the Chancellor, Office of Research and Economic Development, Humanities Nebraska and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.