Willa Cather and Popular Print Culture

deadline for submissions: 
February 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Willa Cather Foundation
contact email: 

From Nebraska to Pittsburgh and New York, Willa Cather’s career as a writer was—and has been, even since her death in 1947—inextricably intertwined with various popular print forms. This conference will focus on the intersections of Cather’s life and writings with newspapers and magazines. Cather sometimes disparaged periodicals by hinting to friends and colleagues that she reluctantly published her work in them only to support her more serious writing, yet she understood very well their importance to a writer’s standing in American culture during her lifetime.

Despite the deep significance of periodicals to Cather’s career, however, scholars have focused most of their attention on Cather’s writings that appeared in book form and on her relationships with her editors and publishers at the prestigious publishing houses of Houghton Mifflin and Alfred A. Knopf. In contrast, the 2021 Willa Cather Spring Conference signals a growing recognition of, and interest in, Cather’s interactions with newspapers and magazines. Not only did her work for such periodicals as the Nebraska State Journal, the Pittsburgh-based Home Monthly, the Pittsburg Leader, and McClure’s Magazine support her during her early struggles, but they also shaped her writing and established her early reputation. Throughout the rest of her career, and even after her death, newspapers and magazines continued to play a key role in publicizing her works. Indeed, nearly all of Cather’s most significant short stories and novels first appeared in the pages of a magazine, from Woman’s Home CompanionCollier’s Weekly, and McCall’s Magazine to the Atlantic MonthlyMcClure’s MagazineCentury, and Overland Monthly; they were also sometimes reprinted in newspapers both in the United States and abroad.

Participants and attendees of the 2021 Cather Spring Conference will explore the many different ways in which newspapers and magazines played a role in Cather’s career and life. Some possible topics include:


  • Cather’s nonfiction writing for newspapers and magazines
  • Cather’s work as a periodical editor
  • How popular mainstream periodicals of her day—and certain writers for them, such as Fanny Butcher, H. L. Mencken,and Grant Overton—portrayed Cather to their reading publics
  • How Cather consciously and intentionally shaped her public persona via periodicals
  • How Cather’s experiences with popular mainstream periodicals compared with those of writers from traditionally underrepresented groups
  • The influence of Cather’s periodical reading on her own work
  • The reception of Cather’s works by newspaper and magazine reviewers
  • The ways in which Cather and her works were depicted in minority-owned periodicals
  • Strategies for incorporating Cather’s periodical writings and experiences into classroom teaching
  • Cather and her works as they appeared in international newspapers and magazines
  • The impact of periodical publication on Cather’s earnings, popularity, and critical reputation
  • The illustrations that accompanied her periodical publications
  • We also welcome papers that offer context on the popular publishing world in which Cather operated, from approximately 1895 to 1947


Abstracts of no more than 250 words should describe papers or presentations approximately twenty minutes long. Innovative formats are encouraged. Abstracts, along with your contact information and institutional affiliation, should be emailed to education coordinator Rachel Olsen at rolsen@willacather.org by February 15, 2021. Questions may be sent to Dr. Charles Johanningsmeier, Academic Director of the 2021 Spring Conference, at jmeier@unomaha.edu.

Given the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are planning for all possible formats: in-person in Red Cloud, completely online, or a hybrid. Presenters should plan to present their paper or participate in discussions online should circumstances require it.