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Washington, DC

Portrait of Willa Cather by Carl Van Vechten, 1936. From Library of Congress collection

Betty Kort is the former executive director of the Willa Cather Foundation. Based in Red Cloud, Nebraska, the foundation is dedicated to preserving and promoting the understanding and appreciation of the life, time, settings, and work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Kort is also the photographer-curator of Willa Cather and Material Culture, a traveling photography exhibition of select objects important in Cather's life and work. In this interview excerpt, Kort talks about Cather's  development as a novelist.

The. . . thing I would say about My Ántonia was that everything was an experiment. With O Pioneers! she took a big step in writing about immigrant populations, and no one was doing that. When [Cather] started out, I believe that she thought she probably had to write novels like people on the east coast were writing novels. And they were writing about sophisticated people in sophisticated settings.  Her first novel was a novel like that, Alexander?s Bridge, and it was not a particularly successful novel, at least in Cather?s eyes.  She had to come home to her roots, to what she knew best, and then she had to have the courage to write about common, ordinary people working the soil, and that took some time.  That took some courage. And she also had to figure out a way to do it that would be successful and would compete against what was being written at the time.

Hear more from Kort and others on Willa Cather and her work on The Big Read radio show for My Ántonia. Visit The Big Read calendar to find out where a Big Read celebration of My Ántonia is taking place near you.


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