Clay Jenkinson

2014 Willa Cather Spring Conference


Mapping Literary Landscapes: Environments and Ecosystems 

The Willa Cather Foundation is pleased to welcome Clay Jenkinson, popular cultural commentator and host  of NPR's, The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Jenkinson, a native of North Dakota, has gained notoriety for his portrayals of historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, John Wesley Powell, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Oppenheimer, and John Steinbeck. A recipient of the Charles Frankel Award, the National Endowment for the Humanities highest award, Jenkinson was the first public humanities speaker to present a program at a White House-sponsored event. 

We are also pleased to display West of Last Chance, a collaborative exhibition featuring the work of Colorado's landscape photographer Peter Brown and the writing of Kent Haruf, hanging in the Red Cloud Opera House auditorium during Spring Conference. West of Last Chance won the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize. The exhibit is organized by the Museum of Nebraska Art, through the ARTreach program.

The event will also feature the landscapes of Nebraska native Catherine Meier, scholarly and creative panel presentations, an Opera House production of My Ántonia by Minneapolis-based Illusion Theater, and activities on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie.

The 3-day event will focus on the complex impact of the natural environment on Cather and her contemporaries, and on the writers and artists of the generations that have followed. Drawing upon recent scholarly analyses focused on Cather's "ecological imagination," this conference seeks to broaden and extend these ideas, both within Cather studies and beyond. From her earliest fiction, Cather was closely attuned to the world around her, and her beautifully limned landscapes are integral to her characters, defining them and their situations. In O Pioneers! and My Ántonia, Cather was the first American novelist to treat the Plains of Nebraska as setting; as such, she taught her readers how to read that landscape, how to integrate with it. Beyond grasslands, Cather mapped many other literary landscapes: the Southwest in three novels, colonial Quebec in Shadows on the Rock, the New York streetscape in "Coming, Aphrodite!" --Throughout, we experience the reverse of what Cather says of Clement Sebastian in Lucy Gayheart: he "had missed the deepest of all companionships, a relation with the earth itself, with a countryside and a people." Her characters possess--and are possessed by--landscapes, formidable and formative environments, that shape and color Cather's work. While acknowledging connections to Cather and to her far-seeing art, we encourage analyses drawing from similar concerns and sharing a similar ecological imagination while focusing elsewhere.

The 2014 Spring Conference will provide a lively forum for discussing Cather's environments and her environmental themes. With the Cather Prairie as a perfect backdrop, scholars, artists, and readers will discuss the many literary mappings in her fiction and the informing landscapes of her life. Important to this discussion are those writers, artists, and scholars who continue to interpret the landscapes that Cather loved. The one-day scholarly symposium preceding the conference (Thursday June 5, 2014) will focus on Cather's various environments, her diverse literary mappings. Having taught readers to understand the Plains, Cather and her influence have persisted as presences. How has that affected today's ecological thinking? Who might also be seen in similar fashion? How has such ecologically sensitive writing shaped contemporary environmental writing? Which other figures need to be seen as compatible?

A unique and popular feature of the Willa Cather Spring Conference is that all people are welcome and can participate. The Willa Cather Foundation encourages anyone who might be interested in Cather's life or works to attend, including recreational readers, local history buffs, students, teachers, and professional scholars.

ACCOMMODATIONS (within 35 miles):
  • Green Acres Motel–Red Cloud               402-746-2201
  • Blue Hill Motel–Blue Hill                        402-756-3901
  • Drop Tyne Lodge–Franklin                     308-425-6269
  • Victorian Inn–Superior                           402-879-3245
  • Oxbow Motel–Nelson                                  402-225-2651
  • U.S. Center Motel–Smith Center, KS 785-282-6611
Thursday, June 5
8:15 a.m. Welcome
8:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Scholarly panels and presentations
1:30 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Prairie foraging on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
5:30 p.m. Barbecue and music at the Burlington Depot, featuring Formerly Three of Kearney
Single event ticket available - $20 (included in Spring Conference General Registration)

Friday, June 6

9:00 a.m.-Noon Norma Ross Walter and Antonette Willa Skupa Turner Scholarship presentations
Noon-1:30 p.m. Lunch on your own

Congregational Church Potato Bar 6th & Cedar Streets Serving 11-1; no reservations necessary

1:30 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Foraging on the Cather Prairie
3:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Gallery talks with Peter Brown and Catherine Meier
4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Artists' & Authors' reception: Hors d'oeuvres and wine in the RCOH Gallery
5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Dinner on your ownStarke Round Barn dinner by advance ticket only - RSVP to Liz at 402-746-4165 by May 25

Congregational Church Potato Bar 6th & Cedar Streets Serving 5:30-7; no reservations necessary

7:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Keynote: Clay Jenkinson on Willa Cather and the sense of the primordial in Plains literature

Saturday, June 7
8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. Kolache and coffee in the RCOH Gallery
8:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m. Service at Grace Episcopal Church
10:00 a.m.-Noon The Passing Show - "Settlement's Aftermath on the Plains: Challenges to Restoration and Love of Place" with Sue Maher, Tom Lynch, John Price, and Dan Deffenbaugh
Noon-2:00 p.m. Threshers' lunch featuring hearty local favorites: beef & noodles, runzas, homemade mac & cheese, breads, pies, & cobblers
2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m. 2nd annual Wildflower Walk on the Cather Prairie
3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Art demonstrations at Cather Foundation sites:

  • Dr. Amy Springer,recycled glass
  • quilting with Kari Ronning and local quilters
  • mixed media artwork with Jane Marie

6:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Taste of Nebraska - Locavore banquet featuring locally and regionally produced prime rib, vegetables, and desserts
7:30 p.m. My Ántonia presented by Illusion Theater of Minneapolis on the Opera House stage