My Mortal Enemy

My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather

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Authors: Willa Cather
Cather’s memory and imagination until the end of her life. They populate much of her fiction. Indeed, the town of Red Cloud, where Cather lived from about age eleven until not quite seventeen, when she went away to school in Lincoln, served as a model for many small towns in her fiction: Black Hawk, Moonstone, Sweet Water, Hanover, Skyline, Haverford. Her life there as a child, reinforced by many long visits home over the years, made Red Cloud central to Willa Cather’s life and self-conception.
    When she went to Lincoln, to the University of Nebraska, in 1890, she planned to study science (she had befriended some of the doctors in Red Cloud and on one occasion reportedly helped administer chloroform during an amputation); however, she soon turned to writing and literature, editing the campus literary magazine and writing for the
Nebraska State Journal
. Her columns and reviews for that newspaper, which she began with gusto at age nineteen, started her on her first career as a journalist. After graduating from college, she got a job as the managing editor of a national magazine, the
Home Monthly
, and in 1896 moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After the magazine collapsed, she worked for Pittsburgh newspapers and then as a high school teacher, spending nearly a decade in Pittsburgh in all. In 1906 she moved to New York City to join the editorial staff of
McClure’s Magazine
. She soon became managing editor of this highly popular and important periodical and, until she left the position in 1912, was arguably one of the most powerful women in journalism.
    She left
McClure’s
because what she really wanted to do was to be a professional writer. During her years in Lincoln, Pittsburgh, and New York (which remained her permanent address until her death in 1947), she wrote and published many short stories in magazines, published a book of poems (
April Twilights
), and released a book of short fiction (The
Troll Garden
). Her first novel,
Alexander’s Bridge
, appeared in 1912, the same year as her long short story “The Bohemian Girl.” These two successes in the same year, along with a life-changing trip to the American Southwest, led to
O Pioneers!
, the 1913 novel that she said “was like taking a ride through a familiar country on a horse that knew the way, on a fine morning when you felt like riding.” * After
O Pioneers!
Cather dedicated her working life to writing. Between 1913 and 1940 she published fourteen books, many of which—
My Ántonia
,
A Lost Lady, Death Comes for the Archbishop, The Professor’s House
—are considered among the finest works of American literature. All of her novels and collections are engaging, ambitious works of art. She was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, a Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Prix Femina Americain, numerous honorary doctorates, and many other awards. She became, and remains, one of the most eminent of American writers.
    Throughout her working years, Cather led an active, cosmopolitan life. She loved theater and, especially, music, devoting much time (and much of her fiction) to music, singers, actors, and actresses. She traveled to Europe many times, and, a lifelong Francophile, stayed for extended periods in France. She traveled often to Arizona and New Mexico, to New England, and to Canada. She loved to go horseback riding and hiking in the open country. In the 1920s, she and Edith Lewis purchased the only property she ever owned: a cottage on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy. This little cottage near a cliff that overlooked the Atlantic became an important refuge for Cather, a private space away from the congestion and heat of New York City.
    As the letters in this collection reflect, Cather was sustained throughout this extraordinary life by many deep and long-lasting relationships. She was close with certain members of her family, especially her parents, her brothers Douglass and Roscoe, and several nieces and nephews. She

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