Willa Cather Summit seeks to analyze and critique author's methods and motivations

July 21, 2023, 1:37 p.m. ·

Willa Cather book sitting on top of an open Willa Cather book
Willa Cather is an American author known for her novels about life on the Great Plains. (Photo courtesy of the Willa Cather Foundation)

Listen To This Story

Willa Cather is one of the most celebrated American writers from the Midwest, known for her depictions of life in the Great Plains. This week and next, 25 academics from across the country are convening in Nebraska to critique her work and methods.

The meeting isdubbed "Willa Cather, Place and Archive," It both celebrates and critiques Cather’s body of work. Melissa Homestead is a professor of English at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and the director of the event.

“It's not just to sort of glorify Willa Cather. It's to think, in a critical, way as humanities teachers and scholars about how we can use her to think through these these questions in a meaningful way,” Homestead said.

For example, Homestead highlights a recent lecture about the lack of indigenous people and other people of color in Cather’s works. Former President of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Walter Echo-Hawk, led the lecture. He was glad to remind attendees that Cather’s works, as great as they may be, have a distinctly European bias.

“She leaves the impression that they were the first humans to gaze upon the land here, and completely erased the entire indigenous experience and legacy here on the land of a number of indigenous cultures that have left a very profound legacy," said Echo-Hawk.

Homestead hopes that by the end of the conference, attendees will be able to bring a critical eye to other celebrated works to better understand the perspective of other acclaimed authors.