A Lit Gift: Behind A Big Humanities Bequest on Campus

University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently received a $5.8 million bequest from the late Charles E. Cather, an attorney who had a stint at University of Nebraska in the 1940s. Oh, Charles Cather also happened to be author Willa Cather's nephew. Yes, that's Willa Cather, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer behind such novels as O Pioneers and My Antonia. Her works about the midwestern frontier experience were mandatory reading in my high school and college humanities classes, and it just so happens that University of Nebraska is home to the largest Cather archive in the world.

Of course, this is not a coincidence. The Cather family has strong ties to the region and Willa Cather was an alumna of the University of Nebraska as well. Through the years, the family has made significant donations of Cather's works to the Lincoln-based institution. These most recent funds will be used collaboratively by UNL Libraries, the Willa Cather Archive, the Department of English and the Cather Project. The Willa Cather Archive originated back in the late 1990s, and has since digitized and published hundreds of thousands of words of Cather-authored texts and Cather scholarship.

Digitization has become a key word in the library space, as libraries have pushed to keep in line with an age where many people do their reading without physical texts. Collaboration is also important in this space, as some library leaders, including one with whom I spoke, are interested in connecting various programs and departments.

As Guy Reynolds, professor of English and director of the Cather Project at the university puts it, "The beauty of the gift is it allows University of Nebraska Lincoln Libraries and the English department to pursue a wide and interdisciplinary array of ventures that will be of interest to both scholars and the wider community, both locally and on a national scale."

Sounds like the latest frontier in Cather studies.