A marriage of minds

Author Melissa J. Homestead

Willa Cather is best known in New Mexico for her 1927 novel about Catholic settlement, Death Comes for the Archbishop. Though she grew up in the Midwest and lived her adult life on the East Coast, Cather vacationed in the Southwest several times between 1912 and 1926. She made four of these lengthy trips with Edith Lewis, her domestic partner of almost 39 years.

“Lewis kept little travel journals. They came to light about decade ago,” says Melissa J. Homestead, author of The Only Wonderful Things: The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather and Edith Lewis (Oxford University Press, 408 pages, $39.95). “There’s not a whole lot of text in them. She drew maps; she sketched pots at Mesa Verde. When they stayed with Mabel Dodge Luhan [in Taos], in 1925, she wrote a little schedule of what they did while they were there.”

Homestead’s book isn’t a biography of Cather or Lewis, but an exploration of their creative and romantic partnership, both of which have been downplayed by historians. While many scholars acknowledge that the conservative Cather was a lesbian, most relegate Lewis to the role of secretary. “The Professor’s House [1925] is the first real evidence of her role in Cather’s creative process. It’s a typed draft, and Edith Lewis’s handwriting is all over it. It’s really substantial line editing. It’s editing, not co-authorship, but it’s definitely collaboration.”