November 8th – Margaret Mitchell

“Hardships make or break people.”

Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell was born on November 8th, 1900, in Atlanta, Georgia. Her father was a successful Atlanta lawyer, and her mother was a devoted suffragist. Mitchell was raised in the shadow of the Civil War and under such strong Southern lore that she was ten years old and indignant when she learned the North had won the War. 

Mitchell was an avid reader when she was young, and the novels of Thomas Dixon, including The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905) that inspired the movie The Birth of a Nation, made a big impression on her. She even organized dramatic reproductions of Dison’s books while at school.

Mitchell also began writing books of her own at a very young age, even binding them and decorating their covers. 

She attended Washington Seminary in Atlanta before going on to Smith College. Her first year at Smith, her fiancé, Clifford West Henry, a Harvard Graduate and young lieutenant in the Army, died while serving in WWI. Then, on January 25th, 1919, her mother died of the flu during the Spanish Flu pandemic. Mitchell returned home to care for her father and never returned to College. 

Once back in Atlanta, she joined the jazz age and was described as an unscrupulous flirt. On September 2nd, 1922, she married a bootlegger, Berrien (“Red”) Kinnard Upshaw. Upshaw was an alcoholic with a violent temper, and by December, their marriage was in trouble. During this time, in need of money, Mitchell began her career in journalism, her first article appearing in The Atlantic Journal Sunday Magazine on December 31st, 1922. 

Mitchell and Upshaw were legally divorced by October 16th, 1924.

In 1925 Mitchell married John Marsh, a journalist who had been the best man at her first marriage. 

When she was twenty-five years old, Mitchell took time off from her journalism job at Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine to recover from an ankle injury. Before leaving her job, she had written 129 feature articles, 85 news stories, and several book reviews for the Journal. Writing, however, still interested her, and after devouring dozens of books, her husband told her to write one of her own. He brought her a typewriter, and she did. 

She worked on her novel for ten years, although she kept it a secret from her family and friends. She wrote only that one novel during her lifetime, and it was a doozy. It won the National Book Award in 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. One million copies of the novel were sold in the first six months of publication. 

Gone with the Wind was published on June 26th, 1936. The movie rights to the book were bought the same year for $50,000; the most ever paid for rights to a book at the time. 

She did not publish another novel during her lifetime, working on film rights and returning the letters of every fan that wrote her. She also volunteered for the Red Cross during WWII. 

On August 11th, 1949, Mitchell was struck by an automobile while crossing Peachtree Street in Atlanta with her husband. She never regained consciousness and died on August 16th at the age of 48. 

Her novel had sold over eight million copies at the time of her death. 

A novel written during her teenage years, Lost Laysen, was published in 1994. She had given the work, written in notebooks, to her high school boyfriend, Henry Love Angel, and after his death, his son found them among letters. 

Lesson from Mitchell:

Mitchell had no creative writing degree, but worked as a journalist and devoted a decade of her life to creating a work that some critics at the time thought was too long. Yet – it’s popular (albeit controversial) still today. To that, Mitchell may say – “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” 

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