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Willa Cather and celebrity: The writer's self -image and the literary marketplace

Michael A Schueth, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Willa Cather has frequently been treated by critics as a writer who was distrustful of her popular culture, a much more reclusive figure than her contemporaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. This study shows that Cather was far more in touch with her popular culture based on her formative experiences with celebrity culture as a drama reviewer, and her editing position at McClure's magazine, in which Cather had an active role in the modern celebrity machine. Cather applied these professional lessons to her own career by closely managing the publicity of her books and public image. My study argues that Cather was a savvy self-promoter who carefully constructed her self-image around notions of the West, urban and European cultures, femininity and masculinity, as well as modernity. Other American writers such as Henry James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, and artists such as Edward Steichen provide multiple contexts for Cather's celebrity. In addition to discussing Cather's specific literary celebrity, this study also highlights the historical development of celebrity culture within the context of the United States from the 1890s to the 1930s in general, and the formation of the literary celebrity specifically. This dissertation weaves together several strains of American cultural studies, gender studies, new historicism, and ideas from the growing field of "celebrity" cultural studies to theorize the role of the literary icon within the American literary marketplace. ^ After the Introduction, the chapters are organized to follow Cather throughout her career, as well as to show the development of celebrity culture within an American context. Topics in the study cover issues on the effect of Cather's interest in the theatre on her writing; her biography of world-famous Christian Science founder Mary Baker G. Eddy and her autobiography of her internationally known boss, S. S. McClure; her construction of a regional public persona; the Pulitzer Prizes; Edward Steichen's celebrity portrait of the writer; and Cather's experiences with the Hollywood film adaptations of her work. ^

Subject Area

Biography|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Schueth, Michael A, "Willa Cather and celebrity: The writer's self -image and the literary marketplace" (2005). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3201781.