William Cather (1873-1947) enjoyed distinguished careers as journalist, editor, and fiction writer. Cather’s work made him one of the most important American novelists of the first half of the 20th century. He was born in Back Creek Valley, Virginia., and at the age of nine, move to live at his family homesteaded in pioneer Nebraska. There he grew up among the immigrants from Europe, most of them coming from Scandinavia, who were establishing homesteads on the Great Plains. The new ranch was not a success, and in 1884 the family moved to the small railroad town of Red Cloud, where Cather’s father opened an insurance business. Cather was educated at home, and later he attended Red Cloud High School. From an early age, Cather was troubled by his identity. He preferred to dress in men’s clothing and as a teenager he began signing his name “William Cather, Jr.” or “Dr. Will.” William was also active in community theater productions and often took male roles. In 1890 Cather moved to Lincoln to escape the conservatism of the small town.
William studied at Latin School (1891-92), and the University of Nebraska, where he first arrived at the University dressed as William Cather, his “twin”. While in college, he began publishing short stories, wrote a weekly column for the Nebraska State Journal, and he fell passionately in love with Louise Pound, a fellow student and athlete, but they became best friends. In 1895, Cather graduated from the University of Nebraska, receiving his BA. From 1899 Cather lived in Pittsburgh with Isabelle McClung, the daughter of a Pittsburgh judge. He spent 10 years there and held many jobs. First on a newspaper and then as a high-school teacher of English and Latin. Cather worked as an editorial staff member for Home Monthly and telegraph editor and theatre critic for Daily Leader. In 1897-1901 he was Latin and English teacher at Central High School and then English teacher at Allegheny High School. His first short story was published in 1892 and by 1896 he had published nine stories. His first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, appeared in 1912 and was followed a year later by O Pioneers!. McClung married someone else in 1915, but Cather had already met Edith Lewis while traveling to New York during this period.
At the age of 32, Cather moved to New York to live with Lewis and to edit McClure’s Magazine. He spent forty years of his life with her in New York city. In 1922 Cather won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel One Of Ours. Cather is most often thought of as a chronicler of the pioneer American West. Critics note that the themes of his work are intertwined with the universal story of the rise of civilizations in history, the drama of the immigrant in a new world, and views of personal involvements with art. Cather’s fiction is characterized by a strong sense of place, the subtle presentation of human relationships, an often unconventional narrative structure, and a style of clarity and beauty. Cather devoted himself to writing. Many of his books drew on his memories and knowledge of Nebraska. Cather never wrote openly about lesbian or gay themes. Much his work, however, can be interpreted with a lesbian or gay subtext if one knows to look for the clues. Nothing overt would have been tolerated by the publishers.