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Willa Cather’s spirit lives on

Author’s “My Antonia” 100th anniversary celebrated at event in Jaffrey

  • Arianna Wentworth, 17, of Jaffrey performs a monologue as Jim Burden, a character from Willa Cather’s bestseller “My Ántonia,” at the author’s grave in Jaffrey Saturday as part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of “My Ántonia.” Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Lydia Hatch of Rindge reads a monologue as Mrs. Harling, a character from the Willa Cather novel “My Ántonia” during “Willa Cather’s Spirit Lives On!” celebration in Jaffrey Saturday. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Lydia Hatch of Rindge reads a monologue as Mrs. Harling, a character from the Willa Cather novel “My Ántonia” during “Willa Cather’s Spirit Lives On!” celebration in Jaffrey Saturday.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • “Willa Cather’s Spirit Lives On!," two-day celebration of the 100th anniversary of the author’s bestseller "My Ántonia" was held at the foot of Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20, 2018. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • During a celebration of Willa Cather and her work in Jaffrey Saturday, Deborah Shakespeare Thurber of Jaffrey portrays Cather in High Mowing field Saturday morning in a tent near the spot where the writer would hike to in the mornings and find inspiration from Mount  Monadnock while writing in a tent in the field. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • During a celebration of Willa Cather and her work in Jaffrey Saturday, Deborah Shakespeare Thurber of Jaffrey portrays Cather in High Mowing field Saturday morning in a tent near the spot where the writer would hike to in the mornings and find inspiration from Mount Monadnock while writing in a tent in the field. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • During a celebration of Willa Cather and her work in Jaffrey Saturday, Deborah Shakespeare Thurber of Jaffrey portrays Cather in High Mowing field Saturday morning in a tent near the spot where the writer would hike to in the mornings and find inspiration from Mount  Monadnock while writing in a tent in the field. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, October 23, 2018 10:59AM

Jaffrey was the epicenter for a nationwide celebration of the 100th anniversary of Willa Cather’s novel “My Antonia” this past weekend. 

The 1918 book – which was partially written in Jaffrey by the the Pulitzer Prize-winning author – tells the story of a Bohemian immigrant girl forced to adapt to the Nebraskan plains in the 19th century. The book is widely considered to be one of Cather’s best works. 

“That novel is never the same because it’s reflecting where you are in your life. When I talk to high school students, I tell them… maybe you’re not into it now, but promise that you will come back to this novel in ten years. I guarantee it will do something different for you,” Tracy Tucker, education director and archivist of the Willa Cather Foundation said in an interview Friday. “I’d be hard pressed to come up with many more novels that continue to speak to me that way. I’ve read ‘My Antonia’ probably 100 times, and it’s powerful every time.”

Tucker and Willa Cather Foundation Executive Director Ashley Olson flew from Red Cloud, Nebraska to be part of the weekend’s festivities, which included guided tours of local Cather sites, readings and performances by Project Shakespeare, a lecture and recital from pianist Virginia Eskins, a musical play about Cather’s life in Jaffrey, and a presentation from Tucker and Olson. 

“She talked about Jaffrey a lot in her letters,” Tucker said. “What she always expressed was that she felt she did her best writing here. This was a special place to her because she found a peace here that she didn’t find in other places.”

Olson said she and others who research and honor Cather have made it a point to try to visit all of the places that significantly impacted Cather and her writing. Olson said this past weekend was her second time in Jaffrey, while it was Tucker’s first. 

Cather, who was born in 1873 and died in 1947, was born in Virginia, raised in Nebraska, and was also a long-time resident of New York City. Despite living in all of those cities, Cather was buried in Jaffrey in the cemetery behind the meetinghouse. Cather did much of her Jaffrey-based writing in a tent about a half-mile from the Shattuck Inn, where she rented a room in the summer and fall months from 1917 to 1940. 

“Her spirit lives in Jaffrey; you really get that sense of how she looked at the mountain and came up with these incredible sentences about the southwest,” said Lou Casagrande, retired CEO of the Boston Children’s Museum and co-chair of the event “Willa Cather's Spirit Lives On!” “The magic of Willa Cather comes across when you walk in her footsteps.”

While the weekend was created in order to celebrate the legacy of Cather and the anniversary of one of her best novels, Casagrande hopes the excitement will help elevate Cather to the celebrity status of other top writers of her time. 

“I think there is a resurgance, thanks to the foundation and others who are promoting the 100th anniversary of ‘My Antonia,’” Casagrande said. “We will contribute in a small way here in Jaffrey to this momentum to raise her profile… she’s up their with Steinbeck and Hemingway, but she isn’t quite treated that way in the vernacular today, yet.”