Annotations from the Archive: April Twilights
Though Willa Cather is well-known around the world as a novelist, her first published work was a collection of poems, April Twilights. For both researchers and Cather fans, our archival collections provide amazing insights into Cather’s early work.
At the time April Twilights was published, Cather was teaching high school in Pittsburgh. Though she had initially taken journalism jobs in the city, first at the Home Monthly and later at the Pittsburg Leader, by 1901, Cather was publishing short fiction and poetry in her spare time. Tired of the grind of working on a daily paper, Cather took a position teaching. “I liked to teach and I think I might have stuck at it indefinitely,” Cather later wrote in a letter to Fred Otte, if a position at McClure’s Magazine had not come along. It’s possible that Cather, in addition to enjoying teaching itself, also enjoyed a bit of extra time to write during her summers.
Cather published seven of her poems in the Home Monthly, and sold others to national publications like Lippincott’s, Harper’s Weekly, and Youth’s Companion. Eventually Richard Badger, a publisher out of Boston, became aware of Cather’s poems. Though Badger invited authors “to share in the expense of publication,”—an indication that this was a vanity press—the resulting volume was attractive, and Cather sent copies to many friends and acquaintances. It was reviewed by the New York Times and other nationally-known papers and journals, as well as locally in Pittsburgh. Her good friend George Seibel wrote the review for the Pittsburgh Gazette.
Cather’s poetry is one of the strengths of the National Willa Cather Center’s archival holdings. Cather’s own copy of April Twilights, from the WCPM Collection, is noteworthy for Cather’s additions and notes. She reissued the book in 1923, with new and revised poems. We also hold a number of poetry typescripts, including unpublished works like “The Easter Rabbit” and “I Cannot Say, Forget.”
In an 1899 edition of Father Goose: His Book that Cather inscribed to her youngest brother, Jack, she has handwritten two unpublished and untitled poems.
A manuscript of “The Swedish Mother” is a well-loved poem that was added to the collection in the 1923 version of April Twlights.
Cather was clearly very proud of these early publications. Besides collecting them for a book of poetry, she was careful to send clippings back to friends and family. Carrie Miner Sherwood, one recipient of such clippings, carefully preserved each clipping in a scrapbook. Some of these clippings bear Cather’s characteristic lines to draw attention to particular areas.
These collected clippings also helped early Cather researchers to identify some of her writing that was published under a pseudonym.
We think you’ll enjoy seeing some of these treasures this year; we plan to share a portion of the manuscripts and typescripts during our upcoming Spring Conference, as we celebrate the 100th publication anniversary of April Twilights and Other Poems.
Willa Cather: A Literary Life, by James Woodress.
Letter to Fred Otte, 28 Nov 1940, WCPM Collection
April Twilights (1903), Cather’s personal copy, WCPM Collection
Lucia Woods Lindley Collection
Betty Kort Collection
Southwick Family Collection
Carrie Miner Sherwood Collection.