Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Birthday: "The individual man is transitory, but the pulse of life and of growth goes on after he is gone, buried under a wreath of magnolia leaves."

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953)
Novelist, short story writer
Recipient, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1939

Rawlings began publishing short stories as a teen and worked on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s literary magazine with future husband, Charles Rawlings. After graduation in 1918, they married and pursued a joint career in journalism at a number of newspapers. In 1928 they used an inheritance of Marjorie’s to buy a 72-acre orange plantation near Hawthorne, Florida, in a rural area known as Cross Creek.

She began writing stories set in her surroundings, and, encouraged by her editor, Maxwell Perkins, sold several to Scribner’s Magazine in the early ‘30s. Her first novel, South Moon Under (1933) was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Charles Rawlings, who hated life in Florida, divorced her in 1931.

Her next book, The Yearling- a story about a farm boy who adopts a fawn- appeared in 1938 and won her the Pulitzer Prize the next year. She bought a cottage near St. Augustine and spent most of her time there after a Cross Creek neighbor sued her for libel and won $1 in damages on appeal. She remarried in 1941 and spent winters with her husband, a resort manager in St. Augustine, and summers writing at a rural property she bought in New York State.

Rawlings detested cities, and found only in rural settings could she find her muse. Writing did not come easily. She was shy and prone to self-doubt, and her output was inconsistent in quality.  But her work remained popular; a number of her novels were Book-of-the Month-Club selections, and her memoir, Cross Creek (see Book of the Day for today) was also published in a compact servicemembers’ edition during World War II.

A gourmet cook, she was a friend of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Frost, and taught writing at the University of Florida. Her interest in civil rights was sincere if inconsistent: she criticized the “infantilization” of African-Americans by whites, and called racial economic disparities “ a scandal,” but when her friend the writer Zora Neale Hurston visited her at Cross Creek, Rawlings put her up in the maid’s quarters.

Rawlings died at 57 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. Her second husband, who survived her by 44 years, provided her epitaph: "Through her writing she endeared herself to the people of the world." Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ reputation has only grown in the decades since her death, and The Yearling is a mainstay of Young Adult Fiction, a category she helped invent.

Related sites:
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings House and Farm Yard
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society

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