Miss Cather Regrets

The Willa Cather Creative Writing Award was created by William C. Doub Kerr in 1937. Doub Kerr, a member of the class of 1915, helped found the Blue Pencil Club, which later became a chapter of Sigma Upsilon, a literary honor society.  The prize for the award was a copy of one of Cather’s novels.

The first recipient was Gibson Smith, Class of 1937 for his work “Satan Snake.”   The award was suspended after two years and returned briefly from 1955-1958.  In the spring of 1937, Doub-Kerr wrote Willa Cather seeking her approval of the award. She replied with wit and caution:

“My Dear Mr. Kerr;
Thank you most for your friendly letter. But, honestly, I think the “new sails” have a better chance of making port when they are not taught “creative writing.” It can’t be taught, for one thing!*
Sincerely yours,
Willa Cather.
* Perhaps it can be guided a little, modestly? I don’t like to be too sure.

A letter written by Willa Cather to William C. Doub Kerr, a member of the class of 1915 who created the Willa Cather Creative Writing Award.

Providing evidence that, perhaps, Sigma Upsilon provided some little guidance are the careers and writings of Davidson members Gordan Ball, Vereen Bell, Joel Conarroe, Jason McManus, Dabney Stuart and Charles Wright.

In addition to Miss Cather’s note, the College Archives has the records of Sigma Upsilon from 1915-1970. Along with the minutes are copies of short stories and continuous novels written by society members. Find more information on student organizations, search the Archives database.


  1. Thank you for including the snapshot of the actual note. Exciting to see.

  2. Jan Blodgett says

    All Cather and archives fans are welcome to come to the archives to see the original note as well as the other records of Sigma Upsilon. thanks for reading the blog! Jan

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