Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Willa Cather, corrected

After three readers wrote to say that they could not find My Ántonia for sale in Chicago, Willa Cather wrote to her publisher Houghton Mifflin. Production editor R. L. Scaife assured Cather that orders for the book were being filled. He suggested that store clerks were to blame. From Cather’s reply, February 21, 1920:

It must be, as you say, that they applied to a green salesman, or to several green salesmen. Could the fact that the buyers called my name rightly, and that clerks in bookstores usually call it “Kay-thur” have anything to do with it. It is all nonsense that an unusual name is an advantage in authorship. One had much better be named Jones. Salesmen in New York and Chicago always correct me when I pronounce my own name. Mr. Sell published a paragraph telling people that the name rhymed with ‘rather,’ but if it convinced others, it did not convince the bookstores.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).
In the newspaper article “To Our Notion the Foremost American Woman Novelist,” Henry Blackman Sell noted that the name Cather is “pronounced to rhyme with rather, if you please” (Chicago Daily News, March 12, 1919).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

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