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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Un/Tethered: Cather on the Cusp of the 1920s

Un/Tethered: Cather on the Cusp of the 1920s

Thursday, June 4, 2020 to Saturday, June 6, 2020

We hope you will take part as as we revisit the short stories of Youth and the Bright Medusa at 100 years.

For Cather and for the nation, the dawn of the 1920s was a tumultuous time, marked by new freedoms and new entanglements. The Great War had ended and women had won the right to vote, but 1919’s Red Summer and Palmer Raids signalled lingering social discord. Into this unsettled world, Willa Cather brought out Youth and the Bright Medusa, her collection of short stories that marked her departure from Houghton Mifflin and launched her long and successful partnership with a new publisher, Alfred Knopf. In the stories of Youth and the Bright Medusa, Cather’s artists move through a world that is by turns inspiring and enervating.

Un/Tethered explores the themes of Youth and the Bright Medusa and the tensions of this time through broad conference offerings, including a keynote lecture by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, Nebraska film and textile artist Michael Burton’s innovative animation installation based on Cather’s “A Gold Slipper,” a day of insightful scholarly presentations, and a musical theater performance of select stories from Youth and the Bright Medusa by Lone Tree Live—a collaboration of regional and national writers, actors, and musicians!


For the past year, our Spring Conference planning team has worked to develop an exciting and innovative Spring Conference schedule that celebrates the publication centenary of Youth and the Bright Medusa and Willa Cather herself. After careful thought and in light of our current travel- and event-related restrictions, the team has begun reimagining our conference and has made the decision to embrace innovation fully by offering our Spring Conference digitally for the first time.

We believe that, though some things will be different, this is an opportunity for us to make our conference even better in the future. We hope you'll take part!

Please watch this space for updates to schedule and information about how to be a part of our event!

Preliminary Schedule

Preliminary Schedule
Preliminary Schedule

Thursday, June 4

9:00 - 10:00  Welcome and Opening Plenary
                             Erica J. Ryan, Ryder University, and author of
                             When the World Broke in Two: The Roaring Twenties
                             and the Dawn of America’s Culture Wars

10:15-11:30   Panel 1 - “Art as an Antidote”

11:30 - 1:00   Lunch on Your Own in Red Cloud

1:15 - 3:30     Panel 2 A - “Prototypes in Youth and the Bright Medusa”
                             Panel 2 B - “Place, Space, and Settings in Youth and the Bright Medusa”

3:45 - 5:30     Panel 3 A - “Art and Economics”
                             Panel 3 B - “Coming, Aphrodite!”

5:45 - 6:45     Invited Speaker Sue McClain
                             “The New Woman’s Closet”

6:30 - 9:00     Burlington Depot Social
                             Food trucks, lawn games, and cash bar

Friday, June 5

8:00 - 9:00     Newcomer's breakfast (pre-registration required)

9:15 - 10:30   Scholarship winners and presentations

10:4512:15    "Teaching Cather: An Audience-Driven Q&A

12:30 - 1:45   Lunch on Your Own in Red Cloud

2:00-3:00       Open house for Antonette Turner’s 100th birthday

3:00-5:30       Artists’ Reception with musical performance

6:00 - 7:15     Invited Speaker Alex Ross, of The New Yorker,
                             and author of the forthcoming Wagnerism: Art and Politics
                             in the Shadow of Music

7:30 - 9:00     Conference Dinner for all attending

Saturday, June 6

8:00 - 11:00   Coffee and kolache

8:30 - 9:30     Service at Grace Episcopal Church

10:00-11:45   The Passing Show, “Rules and Rebellions:
                              Exploring the Tensions of Youth and the Bright Medusa
                              with panelists: Alex Ross, Mark Madigan, Sarah Young, and
                              Erica Ryan, and moderated by Diane Prenatt and Elaine Smith

12:00 - 1:30   Lunch on your own in Red Cloud

1:45 - 2:15     Reading - Alex Ross

2:30 - 2:45     Reading - Erica Ryan

3:00 - 5:30     Alternating activities:
                             Location 1: Archive Open House
                             Location 2: Talk-Back Session at On the Brix

6:00 - 7:30     RCOH Banquet (separate ticket required)

7:30 - 9:00     "Flicker of Flame,” staged adaptations of selections from
                             Youth and the Bright Medusa

Conference Leadership

Conference Leadership
Conference Leadership

Diane Prenatt, Marian University
Elaine Smith, University of South Florida

Call for Papers (closed)

Call for Papers (closed)
Call for Papers (closed)

To mark this important anniversary, we are accepting proposals for papers related to the publication centenary of Youth and the Bright Medusa. Topics to be considered include:

  • Youth and the Bright Medusa’s publication history and that of its individual stories, including the collection’s enigmatic title (and the changes in title and contents);
  • Cather’s fictional world of artists, her insiders and her outsiders, and the tensions between these communities;
  • The notions of escape and return, rule and rebellion, and how these relate to Cather, her artists and their lives;
  • YBM’s historical moment: how does this collection relate to the late 1910s and 1920s and the momentous social and cultural changes of the time? To Cather’s personal history? To today’s social issues?
  • Innovative examples of the teaching of Cather’s work, particularly ideas of cross-curricular, digital, and participatory approaches; 
  • Examinations of place, absence, and exile as they relate to culture, art, and intellectualism—both in Cather’s writing and our modern society.

Please send proposals for papers to the National Willa Cather Center’s education specialist, Rachel Olsen, at, by February 1, 2020. Proposals should be 350-500 words. Be sure to include your academic affiliation with the proposal! Papers will be accepted by March 15, 2020. While there is no set word count, papers should be no longer than twenty minutes when read.

A shareable version of the CFP is linked below.