Rewriting Willa: Red Cloud and Omaha latest stops on decade-long literary art project

Rewriting Willa: Red Cloud and Omaha latest stops on decade-long literary art project

May 12, 2022

by Matthew Hansen, Flatwater Free Press 

He sits solitary on the front porch of the most famous literary home in Nebraska, bundled in a purple ski jacket to endure the too-cold April morning.

The fact that he’s perched on Willa Cather’s childhood porch on a frigid Monday gives Tim Youd away as an outsider. So does the GoPro he’s harnessed to his chest to video-record his work.

But it’s what Youd is doing that grabs the attention of the stray motorist driving down Cedar Street in Red Cloud – or would, if the driver glanced toward Willa’s house, rolled down a window and heard a sound from a bygone era.

Clack-clack-clackclackclack-clack. Ping! 

Clackclack-clack-clack-clackclackclackclack-clack. Ping!

Youd is typing on an Oliver Model 3 typewriter, believed to be the model that Cather herself used. He is retyping the Cather book, “The Song of the Lark,” – every word of it – during his 19-day trip to this 1,000-person Nebraska town, the place Cather grew up and mined for characters and scenes for her most famous books. 

He is typing on this April morning in Red Cloud like he has typed another Cather classic in Lincoln, and will in early May type a third in Omaha’s Old Market. He’s rewriting the entire thing on a single sheet of paper, banging the same keys to the same parchment again and again until Cather’s words bleed together, indistinguishable. 


The Flatwater Free Press is Nebraska’s first independent, nonprofit newsroom focused on investigations and feature stories that matter.

Photography: Tracy Tucker/National Willa Cather Center