It is the final book of her "prairie trilogy" of novels, preceded by O Pioneers! Both the pioneers who first break the prairie sod for farming, as well as of the harsh but fertile land itself, feature in this American novel. This novel is considered Cather's first masterpiece. Cather was praised for bringing the American West to life and making it personally interesting. Orphaned Jim Burden rides the trains from Virginia to Black Hawk, Nebraska, where he will live with his paternal grandparents. Jake, a farmhand from Virginia, rides with the year-old boy.
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Although it has been proven posthumously by scholars that Willa Cather had lesbian relationships, she did not openly celebrate lesbian desire, and even today is sometimes described as homophobic and misogynistic. What, then, can a reassessment of this contentious first lady of American letters add to an understanding of the gay identities that have emerged in America over the past century? As Marilee Lindemann shows in this study of the novelist's life and work, Cather's sexual coming-of-age occurred at a time when a cultural transition was recasting love between women as sexual deviance rather than romantic friendship. At the same time, the very identity of "America" was characterized by great instability as the United States emerged as a modern industrial nation and imperial power. Indeed, both terms, "queer" and "America," achieved fresh ideological potency at the turn of the century.
At age 9 Cather moved with her family from Virginia to frontier Nebraska , where from age 10 she lived in the village of Red Cloud. There she grew up among the immigrants from Europe—Swedes, Bohemians, Russians, and Germans—who were breaking the land on the Great Plains. At the University of Nebraska she showed a marked talent for journalism and story writing, and on graduating in she obtained a position in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania, on a family magazine. Later she worked as copy editor and music and drama editor of the Pittsburgh Leader. She turned to teaching in and in published her first book of verses, April Twilights. After building up its declining circulation, she left in to devote herself wholly to writing novels.
Born in Virginia and living most of her adult life in Pittsburgh, New York City and the island of Grand Manan, Canada, Cather is probably best known for writing about the vast landscape of the American heartland and those who immigrated and settled there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In , the Cather family moved to Nebraska, where she lived until a year after graduating from the University of Nebraska in The Nebraska landscape had a profound effect on her writing, especially her fascination for detail. This is most vividly expressed in her two most famous novels, O Pioneers! By concealing her relationships with the women she loved, including Louise Pound, McClung whose later marriage devastated Cather and Edith Lewis, with whom she shared a year relationship, Cather also concealed, as Lillian Faderman notes, the ways in which these women contributed to and nourished her creative abilities. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in for One of Ours and held honorary degrees from various universities.