In response to a reference question last week I found myself searching through various department files, reading articles about the history and background of the Walter Havighurst Special Collections. I found the answer to my question in an article from the 1986 summer issue of the Miamian. The article was fascinating and would be a great source for a blog post someday, but something else in the article intrigued me. At the end was a list of the “Collections in the Walter Havighurst Library.” One of the collections was the Cather Collection. As I read this I realized that of all the many collections that make up our Special Collections I had never explored the “Cather Collection” and knew nothing about it.
The description of the Cather Collection in the Miamian article states: “This collection includes most of the books written by Willa Cather (1876-1947) and periodical issues containing her writings. Among the books are first editions and signed copies. Cather’s One of Ours, a World War I story, won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.”
Willa Cather was an early 20th century poet, short story writer, novelist and essayist. Her early novels were successful and well received. Their setting was the heartland of America, and the subject was endurance in the face of hardship. Joseph Epstein calls her “the best novelist of the 20th century” in his recent review of the The Selected Letters of Willa Cather.
As I looked through the Cather books I found several signed copies. One early edition of My Ántonia was not only signed by Cather but had her photograph attached as well. We have an advance copy of Sapphira and the Slave Girl in its dust jacket.
We also have an Armed Services Edition of O Pioneers. It appears that we have all of Cather’s novels and most of her collections of poetry, short stories and essays. There are also biographies and critical studies in this collection. We have a few works by other authors that include introductions, or contributions, by Cather. A key word search of the catalog for Willa Cather returns a list of sixty-seven books held in Special Collections.
I discovered a folder in our department files devoted to Cather that includes a rather large collection of the newsletter, Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial. The newsletter is devoted “To perpetuate an interest throughout the world in the work of Willa Cather.” We have most of the issues from 1963 through 1976, with a few scattered issues prior to 1963.
Finally, I would like to mention a beautiful portfolio titled Willa Cather’s Red Cloud. This is a collection of photographs by Gabriel North Seymour paired with passages from Willa Cather’s books. Red Cloud is a small town in Nebraska where the Cather family moved when Willa was around eleven years old. Though she only lived in Red Cloud seven years this small prairie town and its people made a strong impression on her and became the characters and setting of many of her early short stories and novels. The accompanying prospectus reads: “The portfolio captures the moods and the places which stirred the early pioneer-farmers who tried to tame this wild prairie country, scenes which Cather herself described in many of her novels and stories … The portfolio text is a sampler of Willa Cather at her best describing the people and places she had grown to love in her own private life.”
I invite you to explore our Willa Cather Collection in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections.
Senior Library Technician