Chasing Bright Medusas:
A Life of Willa Cather

 A tender biography of one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century and an elegant exploration of artistic endurance, as told by a lifelong lover of Willa Cather’s work

The story of Willa Cather is 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 transformed herself by stages. The writer who leapt to 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 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 fashionable attitudes of her time. Combining intricate analysis with an empathetic, lyrical voice, Benjamin Taylor uncovers the reality of Cather’s artistic development, from modest beginnings to the triumphs of her mature years. His book is simultaneously an homage to her character, a warm consideration of her work, and a case being made to read Cather with renewed vigor.

Praise & Reviews

“It offers a thoughtful analysis of her work and makes a case for its relevance today.”
New York Times (Fall Preview)

“. . . [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

Chasing Bright Medusas is a loving appreciation of Willa Cather’s belated genius, her sense of who she was, and the writer she was destined to be—strong in execution, simple, and sure. This book is a graceful portrait of an unusual woman, a passionate humanist who bucked the trends of the times.”
— Brenda Wineapple, author of 
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation

“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