Willa Cather’s Spirit Lives On!
National Celebration of Willa Cather’s
My Ántonia to Be Held in NH Oct. 19-20
“Willa Cather’s Spirit Lives On!” is the title of a two-day nation-wide celebration on Oct. 19 and 20 of the 100th anniversary of the author’s bestseller, My Ántonia, a novel about a Bohemian immigrant girl adapting to life in the plains of Nebraska. The celebration is to be held at the foot of Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, NH.
Jaffrey is where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather (1873-1947), born in Virginia, raised in Nebraska, long-time resident of New York City, wished to be buried. Her gravesite, a tourist attraction in Jaffrey, is in the cemetery behind the 1775 Jaffrey Meetinghouse.
“This is a unique, national celebration of Willa Cather. We are asking people to come celebrate this great author in words, music, theater and food in the places, autumn color and mountain air she loved,” said Lou Casagrande, retired CEO of the Boston Children’s Museum and co-chair of the Jaffrey Cather Committee of six local organizations. The national sponsors are The Willa Cather Foundation of Red Cloud, Nebraska and The MacDowell Colony of Peterborough.
Cather wrote that “the best part of all the better books” – My Ántonia, A Lost Lady and Death Comes for the Archbishop – was written in Jaffrey. Parts of My Ántonia and One of Ours,which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923, were written in a tent in a field a half-mile away from her room on the top floor of the Shattuck Inn, where she retreated in summer or fall months between 1917 and 1940.
Tickets are limited to 140 people because of the size of the venues. Half the tickets have been sold as of Sept. 16. People can read about the Cather events and buy tickets by going directly to:
http://www.jaffreychamber.com/events/details/willa-cather-national-celebration-7235, or by phoning the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce at 603-532-4549. (MORE)
TOURS, PIANO RECITAL AND THEATER
The celebration will begin with a Friday night reception at the Jaffrey Civic Center on Oct. 19. On Saturday, the focus moves to Jaffrey Center, a beautiful 18th and 19th century village on the National Register of Historic Places with a wonderful view of Mt. Monadnock. Guided morning tours will visit the gravesite near Jaffrey’s 1775 Meetinghouse where Cather was buried in 1947 and Edith Lewis, her lifelong companion and assistant, was buried 25 years later; the field where she wrote in a tent; and the 1833 Melville Academy Museum, which has exhibits on Cather and Lewis. The gravesite is a significant tourist attraction in Jaffrey.
Young actors from Jaffrey’s Project Shakespeare will enact passages from My Ántonia or Cather’s letters at each site. A box lunch will be provided by the Shattuck Golf Club, the site of the former Shattuck Inn.
In the afternoon, Ashley Olson, executive director of the Willa Cather Foundation, and Tracy Tucker, archivist and director of education, will make a presentation at the Meetinghouse on My Ántonia and the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud, Nebraska.
Classical and ragtime pianist Virginia Eskin will then give a lecture and recital on “How Willa Cather Played Music Into Her Writing” at the First Church in Jaffrey, across from the Meetinghouse.
Dinner will be at the Shattuck Golf Club and will feature dishes from the world of Cather’s immigrants.
Capping the day will be a performance of a musical play, Kindness and Cruelty: Willa Cather in Jaffrey, written by Tom Dunn with music and lyrics by Will Ogmundson. It has been touring New Hampshire since last November.
All eight events, including the dinner, a box lunch, the piano recital and the play are included in the $75 registration fee.
While the formal program ends Saturday, options on Sunday include a church service focusing on Willa Cather at 10:30 at the First Church in Jaffrey. Melville Academy Museum will be open 2-4 pm, and you can follow in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau and hike up to the 3,165-foot peak of Mt. Monadnock, the second most-climbed mountain in the world, or simply enjoy the fall foliage.
PRAISE FOR MY ÁNTONIA
“Willa Cather’s My Ántonia is considered one of the most significant American novels of the twentieth century,” writes Penguin Random House, the publishing house. “Set during the great migration west to settle the plains of the North American continent, the narrative follows Antonia Shimerda, a pioneer who comes to Nebraska as a child of 13 and grows with the country, inspiring a childhood friend, Jim Burden, to write her life story. The novel is important both for its literary aesthetic and as a portrayal of important aspects of American social ideals and history, particularly the centrality of migration to American culture.”
Her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours, was inspired in part by the life and heroic World War I death in France in May 1918 of her younger cousin, Lt. Grosvenor P. Cather Jr. Willa Cather’s literary output included 12 novels, four collections of short stories, a book of poetry and one non-fiction book.
Media contact: Kenneth D. Campbell, [log in to unmask]
Home: 603-532-8686; Cell: 603-593-9421
Interviews: Lou Casagrande, [log in to unmask]
603-532-6396; Cell:617- 435-2033
September 21 is 100th anniversary of My Ántonia
H.L. Mencken, ‘nastiest of critics,’
had high praise for My Ántonia
“When it comes to considering America’s greatest writers, it would be foolish to ignore Willa Cather as a contender,” writes Bradley J. Birzer in an essay, “My Ántonia at 100”
in The American Conservative (Aug. 29, 2018). (September 21 is the 100th anniversary of the publishing of Cather’s beloved novel, according to the Willa Cather Foundation.)
“Indeed, it is quite possible that her 1925 novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop is the great American novel, rivaling anything that came before or since,” writes Birzer.
“Yet, Cather was consistent. While not at the level of Death Comes, her 1913 O Pioneers and her 1927 The Professor’s House certainly come close. Shadows on the Rock (1931), too.
“Of all her novels, though, the one that most rivals Death Comes is her 1918 novel, My Ántonia. When the book first appeared, that nastiest and most difficult of critics, H.L. Mencken had nothing but praise for it and its author. She is, he wrote approvingly, “isolated in accomplishment” and “isolated from all current rages and enthusiasms.”
“Devoid of heroes, plots, love affairs, and any pretense to change the world, My Ántonia sees the world through the eyes of an immigrant, a poor Bohemian who becomes one with the land she works.
“But what Miss Cather tries to reveal is the true romance that lies even there—the grim tragedy at the hearth of all that dull, cow-like existence—the fineness that lies deeply buried.” Cather succeeds at making real and critical what is often ignored or hidden.
“Miss Cather’s method inclines more to suggestion and indirection. Here a glimpse, there a turn of phrase, and suddenly the thing stands out, suddenly it is as real as real can be—and withal moving, arresting, beautiful with strange and charming beauty,” he continued.
And, then, surprisingly, Mencken offered his highest praise: “I commend this book to your attention, and the author no less. There is no other American author of her sex, now in view, whose future promises so much.”