Monday, April 8, 2013

Revealed: only known photo of Willa Cather and her longtime companion, Edith Lewis

Lewis, in a 1920
passport photo
Several photographs exist of Willa Cather and Isabelle McClung, the well-to-do daughter of a Pittsburgh judge with whom Cather lived for five years and whose marriage devastated the famed novelist.
     However, only one photo is extant of Cather and her companion of almost 40 years, Edith Lewis, who was the first executor of Cather's will, which forbade the publication of her personal correspondence, 566 examples of which are in the new book, "Selected Letters of Willa Cather."
     Andrew Jewell, who co-edited the book with Janis Stout, is seen above, beside a projected image of Cather and Lewis together, in a presentation made Saturday at the Nebraska Book Festival in Omaha. The correspondence collection, published by Cather's old publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, goes on sale April 16th, but by special arrangement copies were sold last Saturday at the UNO Thompson Alumni Center in Omaha.
     The new book has literary historians salivating and was the subject of a front page New York Times article on March 22, O Revelations! Letters, Once Banned, Flesh Out Willa Cather.    

     Lewis, from a family already well established in Lincoln, Nebraska when Cather arrived from Red Cloud to attend college, was herself a gifted writer who edited and improved passages of Cather's work and took care of countless business details for Cather.
     She received only about 30 seconds of recognition in the NET-made documentary, "Willa Cather: The Road is All" aired on PBS' American Masters in 2005.
Click photo to enlarge
From the New York Times article:
      Ms. Stout and Mr. Jewell, sensing a possible change in the legal climate, began drawing up a book proposal about five years ago. After Charles Cather’s death in 2011, the copyrights passed to the Willa Cather Trust, a partnership of the Cather family, the University of Nebraska Foundation, and the Willa Cather Foundation, an educational organization in her hometown, Red Cloud, Neb.
     The ban on quotation and publication of the letters was quickly dropped, along with the ban on film adaptations.
      “I think it’s quite elegant,” Guy Reynolds, an English professor at the University of Nebraska and a board member of the Cather Foundation, said of the arrangement. Most royalties will “support public access to Cather’s material.”
      The lifting of the letters ban, scholars say, will also be a huge boon to Cather scholarship, which has been hindered by an inability to quote even a single word of what she said about her private life, let alone agree on what she actually meant.
     On April 16th, UNL will stage a publication event at 7 p.m. at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 313 N. 13th St in Lincoln. Although free, space is limited. Those wishing to attend should RSVP to 402-472-6987 or by email. A live video stream will be at
     Jewell also appears in a new series of short videos, launched today, that provide an entertaining look at several of the letters. The first two installments in the video series, "Discovering Willa Cather's Letters," are at New videos featuring more letters will appear through April 12.

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