RED CLOUD — While most readers may associate author Willa Cather with her novels and short stories, many may not realize she also had a career as a journalist writing for newspapers and magazines when she was a young woman.
Cather’s work in connection with newspapers and magazines will be the focus of the 66th annual Willa Cather Spring Conference here June 3-5.
Theme for the conference is “Willa Cather and Popular Print Culture.”
Cather was born in Virginia in 1873, then moved to Webster County with her family as a girl. She grew up in and around Red Cloud, graduating from Red Cloud High School in 1890.
She then went on to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where she eventually served as managing editor of the student newspaper, The Hesperian. She graduated in 1895, then headed east to work in Pittsburgh and later New York as a journalist, arts critic and teacher.
Between 1891 and 1912, Cather worked for publications including the Nebraska State Journal and Lincoln Courier in Lincoln; Home Monthly Magazine and the Pittsburgh Leader in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and McClure’s Magazine in New York, where she worked from 1906-12 and was managing editor for part of that time. Meanwhile, her writings appeared in many other periodicals including Ladies’ Home Journal, the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, New England Magazine and the Pittsburgh Gazette.
Cather eventually gave up full-time newspaper and magazine work to focus on her fiction writing, which continued through her death in 1947. Her first novel, “O Pioneers!,” was published in 1913.
This year’s Cather conference, organized by The Willa Cather Foundation and National Willa Cather Center, will include a blend of events for participants onsite and/or online, drawing in participants from around the globe who may be constrained from travel by great distances or remaining restrictions related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.
Pre-registration for conference events is being handled online through the Cather website, www.willacather.org. Registration deadlines for some events come as early as Monday. For more information visit the website or call 402-746-2653.
Keynote speaker will be Radhika Jones, editor–in-chief at Vanity Fair Magazine. Jones worked previously as editorial director of the books department for The New York Times; as deputy managing editor of Time Magazine; as managing editor of The Paris Review; as editor at Artforum & Bookforum; and as managing editor at Grand Street.
Jones holds her doctorate from Columbia University in New York City, where she was a research assistant to American cultural critic and historian Ann Douglas. She studied the Victorian and 20th-century novel, postcolonial theory and criticism, and the history of English as a discipline.
The conference schedule follows:
11-11:45 a.m.: Newcomers’ meet-and-greet via Zoom
Noon to 1 p.m.: Spring Conference 101 (Zoom discussion), including an overview of Cather’s life and body of work
1:30-5:45 p.m.: Pre-recorded presentations of scholarly papers, followed by live question-and-answer periods
7-8:15 p.m.: Opening plenary session, virtual on the Whova platform and live in the Red Cloud Opera House auditorium. Speaker will be Jean Lee Cole, professor of English at Loyola University of Maryland. Cole, who was raised in Nebraska and Iowa, is a longtime university instructor and editor of the journal American Periodicals. In her teaching, she focuses on American literature as it pertains to race, gender, landscapes, and its place in culture.
9-10 a.m.: Scholarship awards and presentations (virtual)
10:30-11:30 a.m.: Teaching with Cather panel session, featuring pre-recorded presentations and a live Q&A period via Zoom
Noon to 1 p.m.: Ana McCracken Educator Scholarship recipients meet-and-greet (virtual)
1-2 p.m: Virtual gallery tour and artist talk with Karen Vierneisel, featuring a pre-recorded presentation and live Q&A via Zoom
2:30-5:15 p.m.: Scholarly paper presentations, pre-recorded but with live Q&A sessions via Zoom
5:30-6:30 p.m.: Virtual mixer for longtime donors and Legacy Society members
7-8:15 p.m.: Keynote address by Radhika Jones, live with Q&A via Zoom
8:30-8:45 p.m.: “Why is Grace Episcopal Significant?” (virtual)
9-9:45 a.m.: “Celebrating Willa Cather at Grace Episcopal, Willa Cather’s Home Church” (virtual)
9:30-10 a.m.: Coffee and kolace available, Red Cloud Opera House Gallery
10-11:30 a.m.: Guided prairie walk and readings, Willa Cather Memorial Prairie south of Red Cloud (on-site event)
11:30-11:45 a.m.: “What is ‘The Passing Show’?” (virtual)
1-2:30 p.m.: The Passing Show (virtual), panel discussion featuring Radhika Jones, Jean Lee Cole, Matthe Lavin, Kelsey Squire and Robert Thacker. Moderator is Charles Johanningsmeier, this year’s Spring Conference academic director
3 p.m.: Campaign for the Future tours of recently renovated Cather sites (in-person on the sites or virtual with recordings)
6 p.m: Virtual conference wrap party and fundraiser featuring the Animal Engine Theatre Co.’s world premiere presentation of “Henrietta Solway,” combining Cather short stories and novels into one epic story. The work was commissioned by the National Willa Cather Center.
The Willa Cather Foundation is a nonprofit organization with supporters throughout the world, headquartered in the historic Red Cloud Opera House and adjacent Moon Block Building.
The foundation and National Willa Cather Center exist to promote Cather’s legacy through education, historic preservation and the arts.