Hailed by reviewers and readers for its originality, vitality, and truth, this novel secured Willa Cather a place in the first rank of American writers. Cather called My Ántonia “the best thing I’ve done.” For Oliver Wendell Holmes, My Ántonia had “unfailing charm, perhaps not to be defined; a beautiful tenderness, a vivifying imagination that transforms but does not distort or exaggerate.” H. L. Mencken declared it “one of the best [novels] any American has ever done.”
Cather drew deeply on her childhood days in frontier Nebraska for this, her fourth novel, published in 1918. Old immigrant neighbors inspired many of the characters, particularly the heroine. Ántonia Shimerda is memorable as the warmhearted daughter of Bohemians who must adapt to a hard life on the desolate prairie. She survives and matures, a pioneer woman made radiant by spirit.
W. T. Benda’s illustrations further illuminate the fiction of a writer who drew so extensively on actual experience.
Willa Cather (1873–1947) was born in Virginia; her family moved to Nebraska in 1883 and eventually settled in Red Cloud. After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1895, she returned to Red Cloud briefly before moving east to work on Home Monthly and, later, McClure’s. Her first published books were the poetry collection April Twilights and the short-story collection The Troll Garden. My Ántonia is part of Cather’s Prairie Trilogy, which includes O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark, all available in Bison Books editions. In 1923 Cather received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel One of Ours.
W. T. Benda (1873–1948) was an illustrator and painter whose work appeared in numerous formats, including books, magazines, and advertisements.