Betty Jean Steinshouer went off the Chautauqua circuit on health sabbatical in 2018, making exceptions only for very special occasions, such as the August 24-25 storytelling festival at the George Washington Carver Historic Site in Diamond, Missouri, and the Sinclair Lewis Society's Writing Festival on October 6 in Sauk Center, Minnesota - both as Willa Cather, while she was completing the research and beginning the writing of Long Road from Red Cloud. She began to retire her live stage shows, one by one. Her last appearance of Marjory Stoneman Douglas was at the Coral Springs Art Museum, a presentation designed especially for the middle school students who attend the feeder schools for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, just a month before the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting in Parkland. "A labor of tenderness" was Betty Jean's description of her preparation for this event. The museum website announced it as "a celebration of community activism and Florida History."
At the beginning of COVID, no longer able to do costumed performances, she made limited lecture appearances in Florida during March 2020, "Boston Marriages Gone South" at the Matheson Museum in Gainesville, and "Scribbling Women in Florida" at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. She made no in-person appearances during 2021 but kept her commitment to the Florida Humanities Speakers Bureau during Women's History Month 2022 - St. Petersburg (March 3), Inverness (March 10), and Leesburg (March 24), continuing to avoid COVID, in order to survive as long as possible the Stage IV cancer with which she has been on a journey for the past five years. Still finishing books and making VIMEOS, she will soon premiere her Virtual Chautauqua channel. Stay tuned!
The first of the Chautauqua Companion books, Long Road from Red Cloud: Life Lessons from Willa Cather, was released in time for Cather's birthday on December 7, 2019, and won the International Book Award in Biography given by Book Fest. It will be followed by Florida Journeys, tracing the travels in the Sunshine State of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Sarah Orne Jewett, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Zora Neale Hurston, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rose Wilder Lane, Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Rachel Carson.
Betty Jean notes that she has been deeply moved by the response to Long Road. "This is not the book I expected to write about Willa Cather," she wrote in an early preface, but she made a discovery about Cather, after many years of research, and it changed the book from some nice philosophical statements about life to a rather earth-shaking revelation about Cather's gender re-assignment at birth."At this point in my life," Steinshouer said, "I was not looking to release a tsunami in Cather Studies, but I've tried to rise to the occasion. Sometimes posterity demands much of us."
Here are some comments made about Long Road from Red Cloud:
"This book is excellent. I couldn't put it down. In describing how Willa Cather's gender identity helped shape her writing, the book covers ground that for various reasons has been largely ignored." --Bob Dorr retired reporter Omaha World-Herald
“A Long Road from Red Cloud is a fascinating new study of a treasured American author. Steinshouer’s extensive and detailed research tenderly delves deeply into the selfhood of Willa Cather to reveal a previously unknown dimension of this brilliant, complex and wise soul.” -- Robin C. Tuthill, co-author, Female Pioneers of Fort Myers
In The Long Road from Red Cloud, Betty Jean Steinshouer ably gathers and presents the evidence that Willa Cather was born intersex. Making this case was next to impossible before Cather's correspondence recently became fully available for study and quotation. Cather's family and friends vigorously blocked this information out of love, believing it could only harm them and damage the reputation of one of the great American novelists. Now that all of those who might be harmed by intrusive inquiry have died, Steinshouer welcomes the opportunity to better understand Cather's struggles and artistry. While acknowledging that many unknowns remain, Steinshouer shows readers what can be known and inferred about Cather's physical body and then traces its effects on her health and family, her social and intellectual development, and her work as journalist, editor and author. Steinshouer also gives attention to the history of Cather biography, examining how efforts to keep Cather's secret while giving readers a full portrait of the artist have inevitably obscured and distorted Cather's life story. This is an important book that shows us a new and even more interesting Willa Cather. [ Terry Heller, Coe College ]
Excellent and necessary, I too couldn’t put The Long Road from Red Cloud down. It is a fascinating and well researched book about what little is known about Willa Cather being intersex. Through Betty Jean’s style and research we understand the complexity and importance of this subject not only for Willa Cather’s oeuvre but for other intersex people. We must open the field of discussion and allow people who are intersex be who they are. Willa Cather can be read as a mixed gender voice now. Thank you Betty Jean for your courageous work.