NEA Big Read
My Ántonia

My Ántonia

by Willa Cather

An artist should have no moral purpose in mind other than just his art.

Willa Cather as managing editor of McClure's, 1908 (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Archives & Special Collections)

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities can be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Commencement Speech: Jim Burden gives the commencement speech for his Black Hawk high school, but we never learn what he said in it. Ask students to imagine what Jim might have said to his peers and their parents, and then have the students compose their own commencement speech.
  2. Photo Gallery: Have one group of students find historical photographs of immigrants on the Great Plains. Then ask another group to find modern photographs of these same subjects. The photos may come from books, from the Internet, or from family photo albums.
  3. Immigrants in Nebraska: Break up your class into the immigrant groups and characters represented in My Ántonia from the following countries: Bohemia, Sweden, Russia, Norway, Denmark, and Germany. Each group will prepare a report to present to the class, describing the reasons why its character might have left his or her homeland. What was life like when he or she arrived in America?
  4. In Performance: Ask students to act out a scene in which they illustrate the hardships of the American frontier, using characters from Willa Cather’s novel. The scene may be taken directly from My Ántonia, or it can be invented.

  5. Artists' Gallery: Using the illustrations that Cather commissioned W.T. Benda to draw as examples, ask students to draw or paint a scene in the novel.

  6. Cultural Heritage: Ask students to collect songs, stories, and recipes from their own cultural backgrounds. Create a class book that reflects the diverse traditions in your class. This book could also include the photography and art of Capstone Projects 2 and 5, above.
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