The Space of Willa Cather’s Fiction

Throughout her fiction, Willa Cather returns to and engages with spaces she inhabited in her life.  In some cases, she retains the name of the location in her fiction, centering her characters within real space and providing specific geographic details and markers.  However, in other pieces of writing, Cather fictionally reimagines these spaces, calling them by different names and altering some aspects of the space and its inhabitants.

This project explores Cather’s fictional representations of Red Cloud in two of her novels, A Lost Lady (1923) and My Ántonia (1918). In each of these, Cather reimagines Red Cloud and the surrounding area, drawing on people she knew when she lived there as prototypes for her characters.  Using descriptions and clues from the two novels, I have created maps of Black Hawk of My Ántonia and Sweet Water of A Lost Lady.

This site contains three separate maps:  historic Red Cloud, Black Hawk, and Sweet Water.  Each of these is interactive, allowing you to click on the individual locations to learn more.  In the fictional maps, the pop-ups include quotes from the text related to the specific locations.  The historic Red Cloud map displays some historical information, and a photograph when available.

In order to compile this shapefile data, I worked with the Webster County Assessor’s Office GIS Workshop (  Despite this, much of the historical alterations to the maps, I did by hand using ArcGIS.  The data for the fictional maps is interpretive and somewhat subjective, since I have created these maps based on my reading of the novels.  It is my hope that the passages I selected and the sources I point to below will help you see the evidence I used to make my decisions.  However, please do not hesitate to contact me with suggestions or arguments for changes.

I gathered the historical information and images, including some of the prototype information for Cather’s fictional characters, from the Willa Cather ArchiveThe Willa Cather Foundation, and the Nebraska State Historical Society.



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