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Lecture

Benjamin Taylor, Chasing Bright Medusas: A Life of Willa Cather

Tuesday, November 14, 2023 - 6:00 PM | Members' Room | open to the public | $15 per person | registration required

A tender biography of one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century and an elegant exploration of artistic endurance, as told by a lifelong lover of Willa Cather’s work.

The story of Willa Cather is defined by a lifetime of determination, struggle, and gradual emergence. Some show their full powers early, yet Cather was the opposite—she took her time and transformed herself by stages. The writer who leapt to the forefront of American letters with O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My √Āntonia (1918) was already well into middle age. Through years of provincial journalism in Nebraska, brief spells of teaching, and editorial work on magazines, she persevered in pursuit of the ultimate goal—literary immortality.

Unlike Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, her idealism was unironic, and she stood alone among the great modern authors—at odds with the fashionable attitudes of her time. Combining intricate analysis with an empathetic, lyrical voice, Benjamin Taylor uncovers the reality of Cather’s artistic development, from modest beginnings to the triumphs of her mature years. His book is simultaneously an homage to her character, a warm consideration of her work, and a case being made to read Cather with renewed vigor.

Benjamin Taylor received a 2021 Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His memoir Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth was published by Penguin Books in 2020. His previous memoir, The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered, received the 2017 Los Angeles Times-Christopher Isherwood Prize and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His Proust: The Search was named a Best Book of 2015 by Thomas Mallon in The New York Times Book Review and Robert McCrum in The Observer. Taylor is a past fellow and current trustee of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and serves as president of the Edward F. Albee Foundation.