Quotation of the Week: Willa Cather

Once again, I bring you a quotation that came to me via The Southeast Review‘s writing regimen (although I do think I’ve heard it bandied about in the past).

“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” –Willa Cather

What do you think, practicing writers? Agree? Disagree? How is this quotation relevant (or not) to your own writing practice?

7 thoughts on “Quotation of the Week: Willa Cather

  1. Theresa Milstein says:

    I don't know if I completely agree. After I've completed a manuscript, I notice that parts of it are working out my childhood issues. But my present is also an issue I inadvertently force my protagonist to face in some way.

  2. LCS249 says:

    If that were so, it would make for pretty sad writing. It's like that "everything you need to know about life you learned in kindergarten" saying.

    I love the Bernard Malamud quote from "The Natural" — “We have two lives, Roy, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that. Suffering is what brings us toward happiness.”

  3. Anne Whitehouse says:

    I think our earliest memories continue to haunt us, and the house of childhood is a place we come back to again and again, but I don't agree. I think if we are honest and we are lucky, we will continue to be inspired by the life around us and inside us. And it was also Willa Cather who wrote a wonderful essay collection titled Not Under Forty, by which she meant the essays were not intended to be read by anyone not under forty because they required a certain experience of life that she felt only years could give. My favorite essay in this collection is the one where she meets Flaubert's niece (whom he practically raised as his own daughter), when she was an elderly distinguished lady. Wonderful essay!

  4. Erika D. says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I will have to look for that essay collection, Anne! You know, I have to wonder if some of Cather's "certainty" in her quote may have to do with how quickly people "aged" in her own time. I mean, 15 was basically adulthood, and people did not necessarily live as long as they do today. On the other hand, I do think that while we (hopefully) continue to learn about and be inspired by new people, ideas, etc. all of our lives, there's an undeniable resonance in certain new encounters based on what we've been born into and experienced in our early years. For what this may be worth.

  5. jessica handler says:

    acquired yes, processed, no.

  6. LCS249 says:

    One can imagine that life was quite rich in a time when people actually were occupied with and interested in each other. Her comment may have come from that. Today we are strangers to our children and they to us.

  7. Laurel says:

    I think Cather might be referring to an age when we are still innocently impressed by the world around us, before we grow wise and analytical. Ironically, it takes growing wise and analytical to see the meaning in those childhood experiences.

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