When Willa Cather's editor first read the manuscript of My Ántonia, he experienced "the most thrilling shock of recognition of the real thing" he had ever felt. Few books pack so much vibrantly genuine life into their pages as this classic novel of the American immigrant experience. My Ántonia teems with romance, violence, tenderness, cruelty, comedy, and tragedy—all bustling side by side in a narrative at once compassionate and gripping.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you're a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Willa Cather as managing editor of McClure's, 1908 (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Archives & Special Collections)
Willa Cather commissioned these illustrations from Bohemian artist W.T. Benda for the first edition of My Ántonia, but the publisher did not include the images because of the cost. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Archives & Special Collections)
The University of Nebraska scholarly edition restored the W.T. Benda illustrations according to Cather's original intent. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Archives & Special Collections)
Eleven-year-old "Willie" Cather holds her bow and arrow as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha, 1885. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Archives & Special Collections)