One of the great American writers of the twentieth century, Willa Cather (1873-1947) enjoyed distinguished careers as a journalist, editor, and fiction writer. She is most often thought of as a chronicler of the pioneer American West. Cather's fiction is characterized by a strong sense of place, the subtle presentation of human relationships, an often unconventional narrative structure, and a style of clarity and beauty.
Willa was born on December 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, Virginia. In 1883, the Cather family moved to Nebraska, where her father opened a loan and insurance office. Willa attributed the family's lack of financial success to her father, whom she claimed placed intellectual and spiritual matters over those of the business. Her mother was a vain woman, mostly concerned with fashion and trying to turn Willa into "a lady," despite the fact that Willa defied the norms for girls, cutting her hair short and wearing trousers.
After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1895, Willa was offered a position editing Home Monthly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While editing the magazine, she wrote short stories to fill its pages, including a collection called "The Troll Garden" in 1905, which caught the attention of S. S. McClure. The following year, Willa moved to New York to join the editorial staff of McClure's Magazine. She eventually became managing editor and saved the magazine from financial disaster. After the publication of "Alexander's Bridge" in 1912, she left McClure's and devoted herself to creative writing. A year later, Willa published her bestseller O Pioneers!—a celebration of the strength and courage of the frontier settlers. Other well-known novels with this theme are My Ántonia and the Pulitzer Prize–winning One of Ours.
Willa's prolific success lead to a period of despair, but after she recovered, she wrote some of her greatest novels, including The Professor's House, My Mortal Enemy, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. She maintained an active writing career, publishing novels and short stories for many years until her death on April 24, 1947.