White House Symposium on Women
Thank you. Distinguished guests, participants and family members of Willa Cather and
Laura Ingalls Wilder, welcome to the White House for the Women of the West Symposium.
Welcome also to another woman of the West and a noted author, Lynne Cheney.
In today's White House Salute to America's Authors we are joined by a group of panelists,
scholars, and enthusiasts to celebrate and study a fascinating genre of literature and
period in American history.
Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, and Laura Ingalls Wilder captured the essence of life in the
West with brilliant, witty writing.
Cather described -- with forlorn clarity -- the beauty of Nebraska and the vanished American
prairie. She wrote, "Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth is
the floor of the sky."
Edna Ferber developed a writer's keen sense of observation from a tender age, and she was
able to develop great sympathy for both real and fictional characters. She said, "No
charm possessed by the people I know and like can compare with the fascination of those
People I'd Like to Know, and Know I'd Like."
In my home state of Texas, she is known for her sizzling novel, Giant, which was
published in 1952. The characters may have been the product of her first visit to the
state, when she was reportedly shocked by the food, the heat, and the swaggering
arrogance of men in ten-gallon hats.
Laura Ingalls Wilder delighted generations of readers with accounts of her family's
rugged and nomadic life in the West. Her stories were among the first books I experienced
as a child, and they were among my very favorite adventures.
My mother and I spent countless hours reading the Little House series together, living
the life of Laura in our imaginations. Later, when I taught school, I used to read the
Little House books to my students. Aside from the author herself, no one brought us
closer to that character than one of our guests today, Melissa Gilbert.
In many ways, the stories that came from these three women of the West are elemental love
stories. Their tales capture the complexities of any true love: resignation and hope,
sorrow and joy, challenge and triumph.
These women helped forge the western identity. Through their words, we come to appreciate
who we are as a people -- and what we can achieve as individuals.
I'm delighted to introduce our moderator today, Chicago Tribune Magazine editor and
literary editor, Elizabeth Taylor.