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56th Annual Willa Cather Spring Conference

56th Annual Willa Cather Spring Conference

Monday, February 7, 2011

In May 1916, Willa Cather wrote to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan that she just had the luck of sharing a train with a very well-known actor. When the train stopped in Albuquerque, she even got to meet him. It was Rin-Tin-Tin, the movie star dog, and Cather wrote that she had never been more excited to meet a celebrity.
This year's Willa Cather Spring Conference explores and celebrates a theme that has not been often considered by Cather's readers: her relationship to the popular culture of her day. From her enjoyment of popular music, movies, and books, to her writings about actresses and opera stars, Cather regularly engaged with the trendy, the famous, and the celebrated.

We are pursuing this theme in a few different ways. We've invited a group of Cather scholars to come to Red Cloud and speak about Cather's involvement (both in her writing and her life) with famous singers and actresses and to explore the featured texts: Cather's 1920 book of short stories, Youth and the Bright Medusa, and the extensive journalism of Cather's younger days, which is filled with reviews of popular entertainments and celebrity gossip.

We are also hosting a series of events that will allow conference goers to experience a bit of Cather's popular culture. Our tours of the historic properties of Red Cloud will feature popular songs and stories from Cather's fiction. On Friday night, Charles Smith, Fritz Mountford, and musicians from Hastings College will perform an original revue of popular songs from the 1890s, intermixed with Cather's own biting and insightful comments on those songs. On Saturday, the Mont Alto Orchestra will present and accompany silent film comedies featuring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (who grew up near Red Cloud) and Charlie Chaplin (a performer Cather admired tremendously). And, of course, everyone will, like Cather, have the exciting experience of meeting Rin-Tin-Tin when Rin-Tin-Tin XI performs in the Red Cloud Opera House.

We invite you to join us for this fun weekend in Red Cloud April 29-30, 2011 celebrating Cather and her popular culture.

Andrew Jewell and Steve Shively, Conference Co-Directors