American Icons: ‘My Ántonia’

Studio 360

Some great novelists get the acclaim and readership they deserve, and some don’t. Willa Cather is one who has not.

One possibility for that is that she wrote a lot about the beauty and power of what many write off as flyover country. After all, she grew up in Nebraska. But she also wrote about war and won a Pulitzer Prize. And, in what many argue is her greatest work, “My Ántonia,” she wrote about something both simple and profound — the deep connections people have with each other.

Willa Cather’s childhood home, now the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial, in Red Cloud, Nebraska.

Willa Cather’s childhood home, now the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial, in Red Cloud, Nebraska.

Credit:

Studio 360

Willa Cather (in top hat) performing "Beauty and the Beast" in the Red Cloud Opera House.

Willa Cather (in top hat) performing "Beauty and the Beast" in the Red Cloud Opera House.

Credit:

WCPM Collection. Willa Cather Foundation Collection & Archives at the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud.

Over time, we seem to have forgotten how good Cather is. And the same thing seems to have happened to “My Ántonia.” Somehow the book seems to have gained a curiously inaccurate reputation for being like a drier, more somber “Little House on the Prairie.” But it doesn’t make any sense. Because Willa Cather was a badass. And “My Ántonia” is amazing.

Nearly a century after the publication of “My Ántonia,” producer Sally Herships travels to Nebraska to set the record straight.

The excerpts of My Antonia were read by Tommy Bazarian, and Willa Cather’s letter was read by Meryl Devulder.

Willa Cather as Electra.

Willa Cather as Electra.

Credit:

Mitterer Collection. Willa Cather Foundation Collection & Archives at the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud.

Will you help our nonprofit newsroom today?

Every week, more than 2 million listeners tune into our broadcast and follow our digital coverage like this story, which is available to read for free thanks to charitable contributions from listeners like you. But less than 1% of our audience supports our program directly. From now through the end of the year, every gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor, which means your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 challenge match.

Will you join our growing list of loyal supporters and double your impact today?