May 31, 2017
National Willa Cather Center to open in Nebraska
by Julia Fleischaker
Willa Cather, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books including Alexander’s Bridge, O Pioneers!, and My Antonia, has been voted “most-notable Nebraskan” by the state’s Lincoln Journal Star newspaper. Sixty-two years after it first opened in the town of Red Cloud, a museum dedicated to Cather is expanding and relaunching as the National Willa Cather Center on June 3, with former first lady Laura Bush joining the celebration.
According to Chris Dunker at the Journal Star, the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation has taken over numerous buildings in Red Cloud (population 1,000), including ten properties “tied to Cather’s time in Nebraska.” The opening of the National Willa Cather Center will provide the central backdrop for the big weekend.
Laura Bush, who brought Cather’s works to the White House as part of her “Salute to American Authors” series, will be on hand for the center’s June 3 grand opening as a guest speaker.
The former first lady, who has been a friend of the Cather Foundation for several years, said Cather “gives voice to the values that define America’s frontier heritage.”
“By reading her words and promoting her contributions to western culture, we commemorate the pioneering spirit that distinguishes us as a nation,” she said.
Cather’s legacy is also helping to revitalize Red Cloud’s downtown area. The town’s mayor, Gary Ratzlaff, has even said that the Cather Foundation brings in 10,000 people every year.
Red Cloud has benefited from the boon of literary tourism sparked by growing interest in Cather and her work.
Visitors from all 50 states and 10 different countries have taken a pilgrimage to Red Cloud, which calls itself “America’s Most Famous Small Town.”
[Red Cloud native and Cather Foundation executive director Ashley Olson] said visitors from France, Japan, China, Taiwan and Mexico have booked tours of the Red Cloud sites that inspired works such as “O Pioneers!,” “The Song of the Lark,” and “My Antonia.”
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.