Willa Cather's tombstone

“. . .that is happiness; to be dissolved in something complete and great.”

Last fall I traveled a long way to Jaffrey, New Hampshire. I wanted to place flowers at the grave of Willa Cather, my favorite author.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Laurie Gray on December 7, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I’ve long been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver.

    “Nothing wondrous can come in this world unless it rests on the shoulders of kindness.”
    ― Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna

    Thanks for this opportunity to share a quote from our favorite writers. And Happy Birthday to Willa Cather.

    • Sherrey Meyer on April 6, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Laurie, I love Kingsolver’s writing as well. I just picked up a copy of Lacuna. Can’t wait to open the covers and start reading.

      • Shirley Showalter on April 6, 2017 at 5:04 pm

        I’m a fan also. Haven’t heard much about this one, however. Let us know what you think! Hope you are well, Sherrey. Nice to see you here.

  2. shirleyhs on December 7, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Thanks, Laurie, for sharing this lovely quote from another great writer. I’m sure Miss Cather approves. 🙂

  3. Tina Barbour on December 7, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Joan Didion is my favorite writer.
    “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” -Joan Didion

    Happy birthday, Willa Cather!

  4. shirleyhs on December 7, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Thanks, Tina. Another wonderful writer and great quote. And another candle for Miss Cather!

  5. Clif Hostetler on December 7, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I’m shocked to learn that she wasn’t born in Nebraska.
    I’m also surprised that she’s not buried there as well.

  6. shirleyhs on December 7, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Yes, Clif, and she wrote all those prairie novels while living most of her life in New York City! She is buried in Jaffrey because in later years she used to summer there. She’s in a lovely cemetery, the old burying ground.More pictures here: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=182

    Moving from Virginia at the age of ten may well have been the stimulus to her life as an artist. And getting away from her subject by travel and living in the city allowed her the perspective she needed to write about the Midwest.

  7. EYSchmitt on December 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    “My Antonia” is one of my favorite books!

    A while back I read the last book Willa Cather wrote called “Sapphira and the Slave Girl”. It is the only book of hers that is set in Virginia (pre-Civil War days) and she once told a friend that it was so largely made up of old family stories and actual neighborhood life in the Virginia area where she grew up that the boundaries between reality and fiction in this book were all blurred. It was a fascinating read.

    For those interested, here is my review on Goodreads:

    • shirleyhs on December 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks for sharing this review and enlarging the image of Willa Cather. I love when the author of books I enjoy was older than I am now when she wrote the book. 🙂

      It’s interesting, also, that Cather returned to memories from her own childhood in this last book. Many of us are doing the same now.

  8. Sherrey Meyer on December 10, 2012 at 1:10 am

    Casting my vote for Nora Ephron. “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim of it.” Nora is gone from us too soon. In my opinion, she was a treasure in our world of words.

    • shirleyhs on December 10, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      I agree absolutely, Sherrey, both with your admiration of Ephron and with this lovely quote. Thanks!

  9. Kathleen Friesen on December 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    ““There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

    from Willa Cather, “The Song of the Lark,” p. 443

    • shirleyhs on December 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Kathleen, until you pulled this quote out for us, I had not really “seen” or “heard” it. Now I do so through your eyes and ears. Thank you for making on of my favorite books even more alive.

  10. Elaine Mansfield on March 29, 2017 at 11:11 am

    I have not read this book by Willa Cather. It’s on my too-long-to-finish list. I have stood in front of that statue and been moved by it. I’m glad you’re enjoying time in the southwest. It’s a precious time for you and Stuart. Spring is starting in my area. In NC, where I visited my son last week, spring was full blown. It always feels like a miracle. I’m reading Etty Hillesum’s ‘An Interrupted Life’ for the third time. She teaches me how to endure the hardest times with spirit and faith intact.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 29, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Thanks for starting off the 2017 thread on Cather and her novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. I’m happy to know that the statue of the historical archbishop moved you even though you haven’t yet read the book. I’m sure you were also moved by the statue of St. Francis, for whom the Cathedral is named. All lovers of nature and animals seem to be called by him.

      Thanks for sharing your go-to book. I am making note of this book.

      Frolic! Spring is here.

  11. Laurie Buchanan on March 29, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Shirley — I have many favorite writers, but my all-time favorite nonfiction book is WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR and my all-time favorite fiction book is ATLAS SHRUGGED.

    If I want to sit down with a cuppa and feel like I’m IN the room WITH an author personally telling me a wonderful story, it’ll be with Maeve Binchy every time.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 29, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Hi, Laurie. I think I heard critic Maureen Corrigan talk about her secret love of Maeve Binchy books on Fresh Air. I think I need to put her on the list of authors to read before traveling to Ireland next year.

      Welcome back to the world outside the Montana bubble. And congrats again for finishing a book draft in three months!!

      • Laurie Buchanan on March 29, 2017 at 3:48 pm

        Shirley — If you’re traveling to Ireland next year then you must, Must, MUST read Maeve before you go.

        And while her books don’t need to be read in chronological order, I’d start with her first book and DEVOUR them straight through!

        • Shirley Showalter on March 29, 2017 at 3:56 pm

          You never give bad advice, Laurie. 🙂 I’ll remember this one!

  12. Sue McFadden on March 29, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    I’m right with your reading tastes Shirley! Yes, I will revisit Death Comes for the Archbishop! Thanks for the reminder. I have read My Antonia twice. Sweeps my heart away every time. The first book of Willa Cather I read was her short stories. Loved the character that frequented the Petra Cliffs (Tom ????)! Ms. Cather reminds me of another artist I love, Georgia O’Keefe who painted New Mexico. I believe she came from Virginia as well. Isn’t it funny how our imaginations take us so far from home?

    • Shirley Showalter on March 29, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      Sue, we have so much in common. I don’t think it’s accidental that both Cather and O’Keeffe found inspiration in the desert in and around Santa Fe. I did my doctoral dissertation on Cather, Edith Wharton, and Ellen Glasgow, but Cather was the one who wove her way into my spirit.

      Tom Outland is the character in The Professor’s House who visits Mesa Verde.

      Yes, both Cather and O’Keeffe have Virginia roots. Cather was born here, just 60 miles from where I live, and O’Keeffe moved to Virginia and graduated from high school in this state. She also spent two years, 1913-1915, as a teaching assistant to Alon Bement at the U of Virginia. The special exhibit at the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit shows her work from this period. Fascinating. She developed her philosophy of art during this period under the inspiration of Arthur Dow. https://news.virginia.edu/content/how-uva-shaped-georgia-okeeffe

      • Sue McFadden on March 29, 2017 at 5:43 pm

        Thanks for the references Shirley! Petra cliffs, LOL! I’ve been traveling too much! Yes, The Professors House. Another WC favorite! p.s. I paint, not write….. 🙂

  13. Audrey Denecke on March 29, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    I have long loved the fictional text, Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. My paperback copy is fragile and yellowed by age.
    I’ve read the entire book, all 876 pages, at least three times.
    Another favorite book is, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Mths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I was first introduced to it through a woman’s spirituality group in Chicago. I’ve read it through twice, but come back to certain stories within it more frequently. In chapter 10, entitled, “Clearwater: Nourishing the Creative Life, Pinkola Estes leads with this statement, “Creativity is a shapechanger.” Later in the chapter, she writes, “To create one must be able to respond. Creativity is the ability to respond to all that goes on around us, to choose from the hundreds of possibilities of thought, feeling, action, and reaction and to put these things together in a unique response, expression or message that carries moment, passion, and meaning.”
    Thanks, Shirley, I think I needed Clarissa’s inspiration today.

    • Audrey Denecke on March 29, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      Oops, sb Mists of Avalon

      • Audrey Denecke on March 29, 2017 at 12:47 pm

        Gosh, Myths was the correction I wanted.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 29, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      I love the image of your aged and fragile book, Audrey. You definitely have a wild woman streak that permeates all of these books and the quotes that have made a home in you.

      Keep shifting your shape. It’s a comforting thought to know you and be and become many things and still not lose the essence of who you are.

  14. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on March 29, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Oh Shirley, I missed this nudge to get to know Willa Cather in 2012, so I’m glad to get your invitation here. What great quotes from you and from your readers. I’m off to the library to find some books by Willa Cather. Thank you.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 29, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      One of the reasons I am picking up some older posts is that I didn’t have as many readers years ago, and even the ones who read these little essays long ago may, like me, see new things in them. You will love Cather, I predict. Come back and tell me about your adventures!

  15. Lynette Meck on March 29, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    One of my favorite authors is Alice Walker. And one of my favorite quotes is in her book of essays In Search of Our Mothers’Gardens. “Racism is like the creeping kudzu vine that swallows whole forests and abandoned houses; if you don’t keep pulling up the roots it will grow back faster than you can destroy it.” Having been introduced to the kudzu vine on my first trip to Georgia many years ago, this image has always been a particularly vivid one for me.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Lynette, thanks for sharing not only a favorite author but a lasting quotation. I am planning to travel through the old south in early May and will likely think of the quote, Alice Walker, and you, when I again look at the destruction caused by this apparently innocent vine!

  16. June Alspaugh on March 29, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    One of my favorite author’s ins Anne Petrie. She wrote a book called, Gone to an Aunt’s. In this book the author, along with 6 other women reveal their experiences about finding themselves unmarried and expecting, and their experiences with homes for unwed mothers. I read this book as an adoptee, to gain an understanding of what my birth mother experienced.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      What a wonderful Idea, June. Research has demonstrated that novels can teach empathy. Willa Cather herself said, in one of her letters to a friend, that the most exciting thing in the world is to get inside the skin of another person.

      They most fundamental person in our lives is often our mother, either biological or chosen, or both. I am so glad you have found a way to empathize with your birth mother through reading.

  17. susan scott on March 30, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Lovely to read all the comments and quotes and all the books read – I’ve read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game 3 times; and there are a few others I’ve re-read. I’ll look up Willa Cather in the library – I wonder if they’ll have her ..

    A quote that comes to mind – Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity – Simone Weil ..

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Susan, I’ll be interested to know if your library includes any Cather books too. And I am grateful for this mention of a Herman Hesse novel I had not heard of before.

      I also love the Simone Weil quote. She said something very similar about prayer, also.

      Thank you for reminding me of her today. Just what I need as I prepare for my class!

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