New Book Unveils the Hidden Role Edith Lewis Played in Willa Cather’s Life and Work

New Book Unveils the Hidden Role Edith Lewis Played in Willa Cather’s Life and Work

Melissa Homestead’s eagerly anticipated book re-centering Edith Lewis in Willa Cather’s personal and professional life will publish April 1, through the Oxford University Press.

“The Only Wonderful Things: The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather and Edith Lewis” and Homestead’s achievement will be celebrated with a virtual launch event on April 1 at 7 p.m., featuring Homestead in conversation with colleague and novelist Timothy Schaffert.

The event, sponsored by the Cather Project and Department of English, will be held over Zoom. It is free for participants, but registration is required.

The conversation will bring the Cather scholar and Cather enthusiast perspectives together. Schaffert, author of “The Swan Gondola” and professor of English, is a native Nebraskan and Cather fan.

“His work is centered on queer themes and he is writing historical fiction right now,” Homestead said. “I think it will be a conversation for people interested in Tim’s fiction and who are also interested in Willa Cather and learning about her life.”

Through meticulous research that depended heavily on previously unpublished documents kept in archives at Nebraska and elsewhere, Homestead, director of the Cather Project and professor of English, has reconstructed the life Cather and Lewis led together — a life previously erased by Cather scholars and her fans.

“A lot of people found it inconvenient, essentially, for Edith Lewis to exist,” Homestead said. “They wanted to — from their perspective — protect Cather’s reputation.”

In the book, Homestead revisits some of their travels, including trips to the Southwest that inspired “The Professor’s House” and “Death to the Archbishop,” and writes about their professional partnership. Readers may be surprised to learn how much Lewis helped shape Cather’s work.

“They were collaborators in the production of Cather’s fiction,” Homestead said. “Cather did the writing in the first instance, but Edith Lewis edited her fiction and that editing often took the form of adding quite substantial language, while canceling Cather’s language. And then she also, I think, helped Cather to produce herself as an author and as a celebrity.”

Homestead also unpacks Cather’s death in 1947 and the effect it had on Lewis, as well as how the Cold War panic over homosexuality led to Lewis being sidelined by Cather scholars.