Willa Cather’s Letters in the Archive

Melissa J. Homestead, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Vol. 40, No. 1 (Spring 2021), 95-118

Stories of how American novelist Willa Cather recalled and burned her letters in order to preserve her privacy are cited widely in biography and criticism. This essay argues that these stories (and related stories about the destruction of letters by Cather’s partner and literary executor, Edith Lewis) have been exaggerated well beyond the mod- est facts. While some letters were destroyed, neither Cather nor Lewis made a systematic practice of recalling and destroying letters, yet claims that they did have shaped the way scholars understand Cather’s experience of her lesbian sexuality. Cather’s extant epistolary archive has turned out to be far more substantial than such stories led scholars to believe. The example of Cather suggests that scholars need to recognize the dynamic nature of preservation and collecting and consider the specific forces and interested parties shaping access to the traces of particular women’s legacies.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]