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The Selected Letters

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  155 ratings  ·  41 reviews
This first publication of the letters of one of America’s most consistently admired writers is both an exciting and a significant literary event. Willa Cather, wanting to be judged on her work alone, clearly forbade the publication of her letters in her will. But now, more than sixty-five years after her death, with her literary reputation as secure as a reputation can be, ...more
Hardcover, 752 pages
Published April 16th 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is such a remarkable time capsule covering decades of life including publishers, published authors, important and unknown friends from America's West, Southwest, East Coast to London, Paris and beyond. This woman moved around a great deal.
While it is true that Willa Cather forbid publication of her letters in her will and much of her correspondence was destroyed to comply with her wishes, enough of those letters were protected to give us a rare look into her feelings about family,
Richard Jespers
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Author Willa Cather was born in 1873 and died in 1947. Her family moved from Virginia to Red Cloud, Nebraska, when she was a child. Throughout her life, though she lived and worked in the Northeast, she would travel back to the plains and later to California to visit the family to whom she was devoted. Though she toiled as an editor and for a few years as a public school English teacher, she supported herself primarily through the sales of her own work.

Her letters reveal a powerful person, one
Ann Santori
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
LONG read (almost 800 pages), but for the excessive length, it is intensely readable -- infused with Cather's unique voice: which is, at once, acerbically critical as well as warm and unpretentious.

"As for me, I have cared too much, about people and places -- cared too hard. It made me, as a writer. But it will break me in the end."
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Here’s the thing. This book... is kinda boring. Because it’s a bunch of letters. So it’s basically like “the weather is atrocious” or “I visited so-and-so” or “sorry I haven’t written, I’ve been super busy.”

BUT... that’s why it’s brilliant, because that’s what life is made up of.

After patiently moseying through this book, I actually feel kind of like I know Willa Cather a little bit. And that’s pretty darn cool.
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As Willa Cather is my favorite writer, period, I knew I had to read this book. On that note, this is probably the slowest book I have ever read. In order to grasp every nook and cranny of the book, I read approximately 10 pages per day. This woman's insight is extensive and made me love her even more. Although, I must admit that there was something pretty skeezy about this book being released after the author clearly stated IN A WILL that she didn't want the letters reproduced, it was such a ...more
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm sure, if you're familiar with the works of Willa Cather, this is an excellent collection. But I'm not, so it isn't. Some parts are nice, but a lot of this delves into personal feelings of people Miss Cather knew, and to read a complete stranger's personal correspondence is surprisingly not voyeuristic, but uninteresting.

Miss Cather does have quite a few thoughts of greatness:

- How can I "do anything" here? I have'nt seen enough of the world or anything else.
- The physical person of you, the
Jun 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club
For the life of me, I can not figure out what the hype surrounding this collection is about. Never have I been so happy to complete a read, and one which, I might add, took an inordinately long time to complete. I look upon writing good literature as an art, and for that, I truly appreciate Willa Cather as an author. I just find it hard to accept that by reading a collection of letters by this author that I am anywhere closer to understanding her as a person or as an artist. To believe ...more
Tony Millspaugh
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that, as the editors noted in the preface that simply should not have existed. Cather's will strictly forbade the publication of any of her correspondence. The last executor to her will died in 2011, so with the legal road block cleared, the editors prepared this volume--approximately 20 percent of the entire corpus.

Why did Cather wish her letters to remain unpublished? She gave as the reason that she wished her canon to stand by itself, wholly the product of her imagination.
Read up to the mid twenties. By this time, Cather had published most of her major works. The themes of the letters became repetitive. The letters from her most important relationship have all been destroyed so I stopped reading this because I didn't think I'd learn anything new. However, what I read was extremely interesting showing how a writer thinks, stores ideas and sketches and puts them together. Also the sometimes vexing relationships with publishers, reviewers, friends and other writers. ...more
Literary Mama
From "Essential Reading: Seasons" by Literary Mama staff:

Managing Editor Karna Converse adds a tour through the seasons of a life in letters: "I'm only part way through this 700-page tome, but I'm finding The Selected Letters of Willa Cather an intriguing book that emphasizes the art of writing letters, the history they record, and the personal profile they create. Cather's letters are direct, yet full of details that reveal her passion for the arts and her desire to maintain relationships. The
Maureen M
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews, non-fiction
I wrote this review for the paper:

They said she’d burned all her letters, but thank goodness that wasn’t true. She did not want them published, but we can be grateful that the editors of the “Selected Letters of Willa Cather” didn’t let her have the last word.
Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout scoured archives and family collections and stitched hundreds of Willa Cather’s letters to friends and family members into a revealing autobiography of one of this country’s greatest authors. We see her as a
Jun 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Lisa
This huge volume is really too much to get through, so I only skimmed it; the foreword is interesting as we learn that Cather stipulated in her will that her letters were never to be made public. The trust responsible for her writings has since decided that as 65 years or so have passed and everyone mentioned is now gone, it's all right to gather the letters into one volume for publication. Cather is witty and nimble with a phrase. She writes lightly yet intelligently. I was interested in her ...more
Beverly Atkinson
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: letters
I read this selection slowly, savoring Willa's letters for her honesty and boldness when addressing or referring to family members, publishers, reviewers, or admirers. Her letters are passionate and sometimes brash.

During my third book borrow from the Hennepin County Library, I never regretted the waiting for it. Re-reading "One of Ours" after finishing Part Six (of the letters) was a rich experience. I also read Pat Barker's "Life Class" during a hiatus, a fitting complement to "One of Ours."

R.G. Phelps
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned

I found the selected Willa Cather letters to be very interesting and a glimpse into Willa Cather's personality. I witnessed her joyful times as well as her disappointments and anger over something or someone. The authors introductions to a letter or group of letters was well done and very helpful to me while reading this collection. I would have liked to see some of the letters to her that she was responding to as it would have given me a better understanding of her responsive reply.
May 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was an epic book, which I expected (and not just because of the size). It started when Willa was a teen in the late 1800's and ended with her death in 1947. Her letters provided much insight into all aspects of her life, except maybe her relationship with Edith Lewis. I was inspired to read One of Ours and Song of the Lark in conjunction with this book after being intrigued by all the letters she wrote discussing them, and I have several more on my Kindle waiting their turn. The family ...more
Karna Converse
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm only part way through this 700-page tome, but I'm finding this book an intriguing book that emphasizes the art of writing letters, the history they record, and the personal profile they create. Cather's letters are direct, yet full of details that reveal her passion for the arts and her desire to maintain relationships. The editors have arranged the 566 letters in chronological order, so it's easy to travel with Cather from her school years (late 1800's) to the years at the height of her ...more
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes, it took me almost exactly a year to read, but I savored it, reading just a letter or two a day. I had 2 sets of great-grandparents living in Red Cloud when Willa Cather grew up there and I hoped to see a mention of them, but alas it never happened. I now feel like Willa is a personal friend and I look forward to re-reading this book and all of her novels in the order she wrote them. What an amazing talent and interesting woman she was. So glad so much of her life treasures are available to ...more
Mar 25, 2013 added it
Shelves: 2013
I'm marking this as read, but tbh I dipped in and out of these letters, skipping many, since I had to return this to NYPL. I don't think my Cather knowledge is thorough enough to really appreciate much of what is included here, nor do I think most books of letters from authors are that interesting--Elizabeth Bishop excluded, since she was hilarious and thoughtful. Cather seems to have been more utilitarian. But then, I often thought I was missing some nuance in her novels by not reading closely ...more
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Because Willa Cather didn't want her letters published I felt a little guilty reading them. I found them fascinating reading about how she wrote, her thoughts to her friends and publishers. She minced no words at times. Very interesting how when writing a book she described it as having a child, helping it grow and when done there was a loss and grief.
These were certainly different times when writers literally handwrote their work and had long correspondence with people. (Do you think we will
Cricket Muse
As much as I wanted to read this, I stopped. Cather expressly stated in her will she did not want her letters released to the public, and yet here they are. I think it lacks professional respect for a literary illuminary to print them under the guise of learning more about the author.

I address this in an upcoming blog dealing with the ethics of snooping under the pretense of academic sleuthing.

I would be interested in your opinion about literary snooping:
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I decided to read this book slowly, a few letters a day, in order to become acquainted with Willa Cather at a natural pace. I can only say that Willa Cather herself was every bit as wonderful as her works. Well worth the time and my husband's irritation at seeing this book lying around for the better part of a year.
Northlake Public Library District
LONG read (almost 800 pages), but for the excessive length, it is intensely readable -- infused with Cather's unique voice: which is, at once, acerbically critical as well as warm and unpretentious.

"As for me, I have cared too much, about people and places -- cared too hard. It made me, as a writer. But it will break me in the end."
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I loved peeking behind the scenes of one of my favorite artists. Cather's so strongly connected to Nebraska, I never would have guessed she spent a good chunk of her early career living and teaching in Pittsburgh! How uninteresting the "Selected Emails and Texts" of our contemporary novelists will be in 75 years. Is this a dying genre?
Will Dunfey
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I attended the Cather conference in Red Cloud last June and purchased the just-released Selected Letters. This is a first -rate view of her life from childhood in Nebraska to Pittsburgh, Manhattan, the Southwest, Maine and NH, and elsewhere. Her descriptions of her major novels and her self-confidence are the best features of the letters.
Apr 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have always loved Willa Cather's work, so I really enjoyed this collection. It took me forever to read, but I loved immersing myself in her time period and her perspective. I feel a little bad about reading letters that she so adamantly refused to want published, but she remains a fascinating woman.
Kourtney Leibman
I am biased because the editor, Andrew Jewell, was a mentor of mine at UNL and I did some work at the Willa Cather archive. I thought the book was beautifully put together, and I love reading Cather's uncensored thoughts.
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a great read for anyone who's read even just one of Cather's novels. You really get an excellent idea of her personality and private life through these letters. I had no idea what an independent woman and thinker Cather was.
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a treasure. It reads best if you read a few letters at a time and savor them--there are wonderful insights into Cather's books, her experiences, the writing life, and the times she lived. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Jane Wolfe
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I began reading these letters, I wished for more commentary by the editors. By the time I finished, I thought the limited commentary was entirely appropriate. Cather, in her own words, is a wonderful story. The letters portray her growth and confidence in herself as a writer and a woman.
Oct 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-adult, adult-nf
Glad the letters are published but need more context from the editors...
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Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley (Gore), Virginia, in December 7, 1873.

She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor's
“But writing is a queer business. If one does anything that is sharp and keep enough to go over the line, to get itself with the work that is taken seriously, one has to have had either an unusual knowledge of or a peculiar sympathy with the characters one handles. One can’t write about what one most admires always—you must, by some accident, have seen into your character very deeply, and it is this accident of intense realization of him that give your writing about him tone and distinction, that lifts it above the commonplace, in other words” 3 likes
“I suppose the test of one's decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring, and after one has found that one can never please the people they wanted to please.” 2 likes
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