Willa Cather festival returns to tiny Red Cloud, Neb.

It's a Willa Cather party in Red Cloud, Neb.

In her books, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Willa Cather celebrated the American prairie. Although she ultimately moved to New York, the town of Red Cloud, Neb., where she grew up, was the inspiration for much of her fiction.

Red Cloud may have gotten more modern since her family lived there in the late 1800s, but it hasn't gotten any bigger. The town -- population just over 1,000 -- is home to the Willa Cather Foundation, and will host the 60th annual Willa Cather Spring Conference and the 15th annual International Willa Cather Seminar concurrently next month.

In Red Cloud, the Willa Cather Foundation has restored and preserved the home, church and farm that appear in Cather's "My Antonia"; the bank that was founded by the man who inspired a character in "A Lost Lady"; and Willa Cather's childhood home. In all, the foundation, with the help of the Nebraska State Historical Society, runs a number of sites in Red Cloud and Webster County, including 612 acres of unbroken prairie grassland.

Hiking the prairie is one of the things visitors can do at the spring conference. The celebration of Cather's life and work takes place from June 5-7; the $150 tickets include a performance at the Willa Cather opera house, panels, discussions, a keynote by historian Richard Norton Smith, tours and church services.

The weekend marks the beginning of the more academic International Willa Cather Seminar, which will take place in Red Cloud from June 5-7, then continue at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln from June 8-11. Papers presented there are by academics for academics, featuring titles such as “Interpretation or ‘the Thing Itself’? The Art of Performance in 'Lucy Gayheart,'” and "“‘Speechless Feeling’: The Wagnerian Sublime in Cather’s 'The Song of the Lark.'”

Fans of Willa Cather have something else to look forward to: A new, more than $6 million Willa Cather center is in the works, and it's expected to open in 2016.

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