Public Gets a Glimpse at Cather's Private Letters

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Willa Cather, photographed in 1920. i

Willa Cather, photographed in 1920. E.O. Hoppe/Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption E.O. Hoppe/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Willa Cather, photographed in 1920.

Willa Cather, photographed in 1920.

E.O. Hoppe/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"I first heard of Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America ..."

So opens one of the classics of American literature, Willa Cather's 1918 novel My Antonia. Now, Cather scholars will have to make that journey to Nebraska if they want to read some 400 of Cather's letters her family recently made available to the public.

Cather did not want her personal correspondence read. In fact, her will forbids any surviving letters to be reproduced or quoted. But Andy Jewell, a professor at the University of Nebraska, is cataloguing and summarizing each new letter for his Web site, the Willa Cather Archive.

Jewell talks with Debbie Elliott about what the letters reveal — and why Cather was so protective of them.

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