Greater Allegheny's James Jaap elected to Willa Cather foundation board

MCKEESPORT, Pa. — James Jaap, associate teaching professor of English at Penn State Greater Allegheny, has been elected to a three-year term on the Willa Cather Foundation Board of Governors.

As a member of the board, Jaap joins a group of scholars dedicated to the continued promotion of the life, works and times of the 20th-century American author Willa Cather.   

Jaap began his studies primarily focusing on Irish literature, writing his dissertation on the subject, but made a transition into the world of American literature where he began studying the works of Cather.

His research led him to the connection between Cather and the city of Pittsburgh, where the author lived from 1869-1906. Jaap said, “Pittsburgh had a lot going on while Cather resided here. Pittsburgh was beginning to develop an art scene throughout the city.” 

“She (Cather) bemoaned the fact that industry was where everything was focused. She taught high school here. She wrote about how she might teach her students English or literature, but she knew they were going to go back to the mills; they’re going to work in the industry,” said Jaap. 

In addition, Jaap will serve on the development and archives and site preservation subcommittees, where he will work and mine the Pittsburgh region for donors, supports, and delve further into Cather’s life while living in Pittsburgh. 

“My hope is to locate some long-lost archives or maybe some letters that we haven’t found. I really want to make it known that she is from here and I believe that it would be good for Pittsburgh’s legacy,” said Jaap. 

Jaap has done his bit for the preservation of Cather’s name, undertaking numerous projects linking Cather and the city of Pittsburgh, and teaching her novels, “O Pioneers!” and “My Ántonia,” to incoming freshmen every year. 

In June, he hosted and directed the 16th Willa Cather Seminar at Duquesne University. Pittsburgh's mayor, Bill Peduto, declared June 17th as "Willa Cather Day." Over 100 scholars and fans came to the city to learn more of Cather's life and literature during this week-long seminar, which gave three Greater Allegheny students the opportunity to present their own papers. 

Jaap recently began working on what he calls the “Pittsburgh Literature Project,” which focuses on and raises awareness of writers, poets and dramatists from the Pittsburgh area and their connections to the city. 

“My goal for this project is to create a space where we can start a research conversation about Pittsburgh’s influence on writers. We know about all our famous industrialists like Carnegie, Mellon and Frick. We know about Warhol and Cassatt. We know about the musical influences through the Jazz scene. But there is very little discussion about literature and it seems like a prime area to focus on,” said Jaap.     

With research on authors like Cather and the nurturing of today's literary artists, Jaap is taking strides to make Pittsburgh known for its writer-scholars.  

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Last Updated November 07, 2017