Hundreds of pages of Cather's journalistic writings have been dug from the dusty magazine and newspaper files where they first appeared and republished.All of her stories have been collected, including many she gladly would have expunged from the record if she could have.She certainly made the task of writing her life more difficult; yet she and other writers who have wanted to cover their tracks always have been doomed to failure.Still, one envies the chroniclers of those public figures who carefully saved for posterity the documentation of their lives.During her own lifetime she managed her image rather successfully by writing biographical sketches of herself and telling interviewers what she wanted printed about her.Fortunately, correspondents who outlived her had the good sense to realize that Cather belongs to the world and her letters ought to be preserved.It is still impossible to publish or quote from her letters (her will forbids it), but they are available for consultation, and the information they contain is public property.
She left a trail of published interviews and speeches and public statements that surprises anyone who knows only her own pronouncements desiring privacy.
Perhaps fifteen hundred of her letters by now have found their way into institutional collections from Maine to California, even though she and Edith Lewis destroyed as many of her letters as they could lay their hands on.
Knopf tried his best to preserve Cather's privacy, but it was difficult.
He said himself at the time of the centennial celebration of her birth in 1973 that "anyone who abhors contact with members of the public is best advised not to produce work which has public interest." Cather resented the fact that she could not sit on a bench in Central Park without being recognized and accosted by strangers, but all her efforts to keep out of the limelight arid control access to her life have been unsuccessful in keeping biographers off her trail.
Although forty years have passed since the death of Willa Cather in 1947, she never has been the subject of a full-length biography. can be more certain than she to capture ultimately the admiration of posterity." The absence of a detailed biography is probably due to the traps, pitfalls, and barricades she placed in the biographer's path, and until now sufficient material has not been available to flesh out more than a medium-length life. Brown's biography of Cather appeared in 1953, Alfred Knopf wrote on the jacket: "Here is all the biographical information anyone is likely ever to gather about Willa Cather." Even though he was understandably interested in promoting the sale of Brown's book, he no doubt also thought Cather had been such a private person that biographical data actually was meager.
When she died, her reputation was firmly established as one of the most significant American novelists, and during the succeeding decades her stature has continued to grow. Donald Adams wrote in the that "no American novelist was more purely an artist," and George Whicher declared four years later that "no American writer . While no biography ever can be definitive, this study contains a great deal more material than any previous one and goes considerably beyond my own earlier biography, as well as the efforts of others, in presenting a life-size portrait of this remarkable woman. He was wrong, of course, and since Cather died there has been a steady accumulation of material to fuel the ever-growing interest in her life and work.