Students Travel to Nebraska After Studying Willa Cather


by Michelle Zimmerman

Six students enrolled in the English course Willa Cather and Place-Based Writing took the afternoon of Sept. 30 to visit Nebraska as a way of developing a personal experience to tie into their class.

The first stop on the day trip consisted of an exhibit dedicated to Cather in Lincoln, Neb. The exhibit, which is not yet open to the public, included small peaks into Cather’s life. Cather’s clothing, scrapbook, and older archives were all on display.

The next stop landed the group in Red Cloud, Neb., which is a childhood home to Cather and a key location in most of her writing. The students were able to see the town and prairie that played a huge role in her life.

“Cather wrote so much about the people she knew when she was younger and how important it was to her,” junior Ann Jennings said. “Cather makes the land sound great, but she had to get away from it. Seeing it helped me understand why people wanted to leave or kill themselves because the prairie seemed dissolute and empty. I can understand why they wanted to leave and never come back.”

The last part of the trip concluded with a service project that consisted of the group splitting into two and then sent to different houses. The two houses were Cather’s childhood home and the house of a fictitious family used in her writing.

The students helped with rebuilding the porches and other areas of the house. This allowed for them to have hands-on help with Cather’s ongoing legacy.

“I thought the trip was a really good, hands-on way to engage with everything we’ve been learning about Willa Cather in class,” senior Kellyn Pappas said. “Most of the people in her books are based on people she knew in Red Cloud, so getting to see the town for ourselves and see the place where she grew up was pretty cool.”

The purpose of the class is for students to learn what it is like to write about their location and give life to their surroundings.

“Cather was from the Midwest and writing about the place she once lived,” said Angela Glover, visiting assisting professor of English. “She had to leave that place to be able to write about that place.”

The class not only consists of the reading of Cather’s work and the students writing, but it also includes a chance to cook. Cather’s writing includes many recipes that have been combined into a cookbook that allows for students to cook and bring to class a recipe from what they have read.

The class continues to work on examining the writing of Cather in hopes of creating and defining their own personal place-based writing techniques, as well as bettering their cooking skills.