High Plains Associate Student Representative, 2011-2012
Chadron State College
Wind sweeping through the prairie was always a very calming image to me, and I was utterly mesmerized by the “Willa Cather Memorial Prairie.” The vastly empty and calming stretch of land before me was a stark contrast to the town only a few miles away. This was a recurring feeling as I felt the town itself seemed to be straddling two different time periods. One foot was in 2011 and the other was in 1886, and while there was not a foreboding or melancholy sense in Red Cloud, definitely something declared its presence. The way these extremely old and historical buildings and the modern businesses were juxtaposed made this point clear as we wandered to Cather’s actual childhood home.
We gathered in hushed voices as we walked through Cather’s old home, and to the credit of the Willa Cather Foundation, the house was full of the furniture and dishes that the Cathers used. I found especially moving that Willa’s grandmother’s tiny shoes were sitting perfectly next to the bed as if waiting patiently to receive their mistress’ feet. A feeling of reverence washed over me as I took in that ancient air. While everyone was indeed respectful, there was also a tinge of excitement as we walked through multiple historic buildings, especially the Harling House which was full of old paintings and dishes from its original residents (the Miners).
We did not just simply sightsee, however, and we covered quite a lot of ground in just two days. The first night started out with a very insightful presentation by the keynote speaker Dr. Andrew Jewell (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) about a publication that he is working on which features many of Willa Cather’s previously unreleased letters. These letters paint a fascinating picture that fleshes out Cather’s mysterious character. Following the keynote address was a common reader discussion on Willa Cather’s novella “Old Mrs. Harris.” Many people contributed very thoughtful details regarding this novella, and the discussion itself was almost bursting with its array of opinions.
The following day we had the choice either to volunteer help for the Willa Cather Foundation or watch a documentary on Willa Cather. I decided to go with the Willa Cather Foundation because we got to have a behind the scenes look into rooms and buildings that are not open to the general public at this moment. Aside from lifting the heaviest shelves on this side of the Missouri River, the experience was very rewarding, and I am glad that we had the opportunity to lend a hand.
Later that evening was a poetry reading by a fantastic Slam Poet from Omaha, Nebraska, Matt Mason. “Energetic” does not begin to describe the dynamic reading that this very vocal poet treated the audience with. There were moments in his poetry reading that he would raise his voice as if there were no microphone in front of him, and suddenly drop his voice to a near whisper.
This conference was my first regional Sigma Tau Delta experience, and it was refreshing being around so many people that have a passion for literature. Many great things are happening in the High Plains Region, and I cannot wait to see what everyone brings to the table in New Orleans.