August 8 – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

“There are times when I resent—almost to madness—being a woman. I want to be a solitary fighter, loving no one, with no one loving me.” 

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was born August 8, 1896, in Washington D.C. 

She began writing as a young child, and at the age of 16 entered a story “The Reincarnation of Miss Hetty” in a contest and won. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she met her future husband while editing the school’s literary magazine. She graduated with a degree in English in 1918, then married in 1919. The couple lived in Louisville and then Rochester, both writing for newspapers. Rawlings herself wrote a column in verse called “Songs of a Housewife” for the Rochester-Times-Union. The column proved immensely popular and Rawlings wrote 6 poems a week for two years, gaining a large syndication. These poems were mostly forgotten until published by the University of Florida in 1997. Rawlings pursued writing slowly with little pieces, knowing there was more to dig up underneath with the right inspiration. 

In 1928, with a small inheritance from her mother, Rawlings and her husband bought a 72 acre orange grove in Florida. Marjorie was taken by the landscape and the people, and kept notebooks of her observances of both. Maxwell Perkins, the famous Scribner’s editor of Hemingway, Wolfe, and Fitzgerald, encouraged her to write about her backcountry neighbors. In 1933 her first book, South Moon Under was published. The book, about a moonshiner, was included in the popular Book-of-the-Month Club and was a finalist for the Pulitzer. The same year she was divorced from her husband of fourteen years, who didn’t like living in Florida. A 1935 book, Golden Apples about unrequited love did not meet much success, but her 1938 book, The Yearling, has secured her as a classic American author. The book about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. Rawlings intended it as a book for young readers, long before that demographic was considered a category. MGM bought the film rights to the novel, and the film released in 1946 made Rawlings famous. 

In 1941 she married hotelier Norton Baskin. They lived somewhat separate lives, with Norton running his hotels and Rawlings focusing on her writing, which suited them both.  

Cross Creek a memoir of her life in Florida, was published in 1942. Rawlings was sued by a neighbor after the publication of the novel, and the lawsuit dragged on for five years, taking a toll on the author. It was later made into a movie in 1983. Rawlings had long been deceased, but her husband made a cameo in the film.

Rawling died in 1953, at the age of 57 from a cerebral hemorrhage. She left most of her property to the University of Gainesville Florida where she taught writing. In 1958 they named a dormitory, Rawlings Hall, after her. Her land at Cross Creek is now the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Park.

A posthumously published book, The Secret River was awarded a Newbery Honor in 1956. 

Lesson from Rawlings:

Once Rawlings found her niche she didn’t let anything remove her from that orange grove. Perhaps if you’re honest in your writing you won’t be able to avoid lawsuits, but don’t let it tear you down. 

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