The Selected Letters of Willa Cather
edited by andrew jewell and janis stout
knopf, 752 pages, $37.50

One might be forgiven for feeling some ambivalence in opening this volume, the first-ever publication of the personal correspondence of Willa Cather, the writer who moved from the Nebraska prairie to Pittsburgh, to Greenwich Village, and into the literary pantheon. Editors Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout acknowledge the prospect of this unease in the first lines of their introduction: “Before Willa Cather died, she did what she could to prevent this book from ever existing. She made a will that clearly forbade all publication of her letters, in full or in part. And now we flagrantly defy Cather’s will.”


What justifies this disregard is Cather’s vital presence in this far-ranging correspondence. Arranged chronologically and grouped into twelve sections, her letters appear in their entirety minus presumably large bodies of letters, to Cather’s two closest friends (more than friends, some say), that were likely destroyed. Helpful editorial bridges provide ­necessary context, as often Cather is responding to unprinted letters she has received.

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