Chasing Bright Medusas: A Life of Willa Cather

Article number: Taylor CBM
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A brief and tender biography of one of the greatest authors of the 20th century and an elegant exploration of artistic endurance, as told by a life-long lover of Willa Cather’s work.

The story of Willa Cather is one defined by a lifetime of determination, struggle, and gradual emergence. Some show their full powers early; yet Cather was the opposite. She took her time, and gradually transformed. The writer who leapt into the forefront of American letters with O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Ántonia (1918), was already well into middle-age. Through years of provincial journalism in Nebraska, brief (hated) spells of teaching, and editorial work on magazines, she persevered in pursuit of the ultimate goal – literary immortality.

Unlike Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, her idealism was unironic, and she stood alone among the great modern authors, at odds with the time in which she lived. Combining intricate analysis with an empathetic, lyrical voice, Benjamin Taylor uncovers the reality of Cather’s artistic development, from provincial beginnings to the triumphs of her mature years. Simultaneously an homage to her character, a warm consideration of her work, and a case being made to read Cather with renewed vigor.

Product Details:

Hardcover | $28.00 | To be published by Viking: Nov 14, 2023 | 192 Pages 


About the Author

Benjamin Taylor received a 2021 Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His memoir Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth was published by Penguin Books in 2020. His previous memoir, The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered, received the 2017 Los Angeles Times-Christopher Isherwood Prize and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His Proust: The Search was named a Best Book of 2015 by Thomas Mallon in The New York Times Book Review and Robert McCrum in The Observer. Taylor is a past fellow and current trustee of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and serves as president of the Edward F. Albee Foundation.


“. . . [A] solid critical biography . . . It’s a strong overview of Cather’s bibliography that’s as concise as her best novels.” —Publishers Weekly

“...Taylor provides a remarkably revealing account of the life and creative output of Willa Cather...Taylor’s connection of Cather’s personal life and her literary inventions is consistently astute, and the exuberant force of her imagination emerges vividly...the author presents a rewarding and perceptive portrait, providing a valuable assessment of Cather’s intriguing character and the enduring importance of her oeuvre. Keen, insightful commentary on a literary master.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Willa Cather ‘was her own raw material,’ Benjamin Taylor tells us in his sober, elegant, and compact life of his heroine. Taylor’s graceful insight and wit, alive in every sentence, pay tribute to Cather’s style and to the truthfulness of her vision. Chasing Bright Medusas is a love letter from one writer to another, offering an intimate, inside view of the living art." —Rosanna Warrenauthor of Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters

"From what he calls ‘a debt of love,’ Benjamin Taylor has produced a swift, sure-footed, immensely pleasurable biography. His Cather is at once an adamant antimodernist and an intrepid experimenter, an idealist of America and a chronicler of its darknesses. His passionate readings make clear that she is, above all, one of our greatest writers." —Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness

"Willa Cather was a great American writer. She was also a formidable and complicated woman. Benjamin Taylor knows just when to assert, when to question, and when to suggest. His elegant biography cuts away the clutter. He brings a storyteller’s breadth and a critic’s precision to Cather’s life and art." —Margo Jefferson, author of Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir
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