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Harsh and Relentless: Cather's Frontier

My Ántonia

Stylized line drawing of a young woman knitting in flat, broad American plains, by Władysław T. Benda.

Willa Cather, known in college as the “meat axe” for her unforgiving Nebraska State Journal critique of theater and music, “might enjoy knowing that her signature novel, My Ántonia, has been adapted for today's theater audiences, making her key points about life for immigrants on the midwestern prairie both timely and inspirational,” suggests Professor Emerita Toni McNaron.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of this masterpiece, LearningLife is joining forces with the Illusion Theater. On March 9, McNaron will lead a course on My Ántonia, and participants will receive discounts for the Illusion’s award-winning production of the novel. Whether participants see the play prior to or after the course, their appreciation for Cather’s work will be enhanced by McNaron’s in-depth exploration of My Ántonia and the author’s personal history and writing career.

“The trajectory of Willa Cather's position in the world of American letters goes from being extremely popular (even winning a Pulitzer Prize for her novel about World War I—One of Ours) to being decanonized by academics because they preferred the spare work of Ernest Hemingway to today when she is acknowledged as one of our premier 20th-century writers who spoke from her unique position as a woman functioning in what was then a largely male world of letters.”

Cather was born within a decade of another author of pioneer life, Laura Ingalls Wilder. “If Laura Ingalls Wilder romanticized early life on the prairie,” says McNaron, “Willa Cather showed us all the harshness and struggle against both external nature and internal desires as they manifested themselves for those settlers.” But how much could My Ántonia have in common with Little House on the Prairie? “What they seem to have shared was a deep love for the land itself before it was fenced and harvested by people and animals.”

Please join McNaron, LearningLife, and the Illusion Theater for this special anniversary celebration of Cather and her creative exploration of the American immigrant experience.

Published on January 30, 2019