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Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Photo of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Author
1896 - 1953
Inducted in 1987

Biography

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) was a well-known American writer of the 1930s and ‘40s who drew material for her stories from the rugged Alachua County region and, in particular, a small unincorporated community of Cross Creek, situated about 20 miles southeast of Gainesville.   In 1939, her book, The Yearling, won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  A 1946 movie based on the book and starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman won two Academy Awards.

Marjorie was the first-born child to Arthur Frank Kinnan and Ida May Traphagen in Washington, D.C. where her father worked as an attorney for the U.S. Patent Office.  By the age of 6, Marjorie was displaying an interest in writing.  At 15, she won a prize for her story, "The Reincarnation of Miss Hetty," in a children's' literature contest sponsored by McCall's Magazine.

During her childhood, Marjorie Kinnan experienced nature and farm life through frequent jaunts with her parents, who owned a farm in Maryland.   The also visited her grandparents who lived on a farm in southern Michigan.   Much of her writing as an adult reflected a love for nature and the agrarian life.

By the time she graduated from high school, Kinnan had gained substantial success as a contributor to local newspapers and for her short-story writing.  When her father died in 1913, her mother moved her and her only sibling–Arthur Houston (born in 1900–to Madison, Wisconsin.   Kinnan enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated in 1918 with a degree in English.

While working on the university's literary magazine, Kinnan had met a fellow writer, Charles Rawlings.  In 1919 the couple married and moved to Louisville, Kentucky where they both worked briefly as writers for the Louisville Courier-Journal.  The couple soon moved to Rochester, New York, Charles' home town, and began writing for the Rochester Journal.  Marjorie had her own column at the paper, called "Songs of the Housewife."

In 1928, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings saw Florida for the first time.  After receiving a modest inheritance, she and Charles bought a 72-acre orange grove near Hawthorne, Florida, near the tiny hamlet of Cross Creek.  The couple remodeled an old Cracker-style house on the place and turned it into a warm and inviting place.

Rawlings quickly became fascinated with the area's wild environment and the people who lived there, and within a few years, her writings would make Cross Creek world famous.  But her husband Charles found the place too isolated and the work of maintaining an orange grove too onerous.  The couple divorced, childless, in 1933.  That same year, Marjorie's first novel based on the area, South Moon Under, was published by Scribner's with the legendary Maxwell Perkins as editor.  A story about a hardship family forced to make and sell moonshine to support themselves, the novelwas a hit, becoming a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1934. 

During her two decades at Cross Creek, Rawlings published eight books.  By far the most famous was The Yearling, her story of a boy and his love for a deer in Florida's scrub country. The best-selling novel won the Pulitzer Prize of 1939 and brought its author wealth and enduring fame.  In 1942, Rawlings–who had a life-long passion and talent for cooking–published Cross Creek Cookery, which became a best-selling cookbook. 

In the course of her growing to international stature as a writer, Rawlings became friends with many of the day's literary luminaries, including Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zora Neal Hurston, who was Rawlings' occasional guest at Cross Creek. 

In 1941, Rawlings married Norton Baskin, a hotelier from Ocala, Florida.  The couple began spending most of their time on Florida's east coast, especially at Crescent Beach where Rawlings bought a beach cottage with money made from The Yearling. Her last novel, The Sojourner, appeared in 1953, shortly before her death, in St. Augustine, of a cerebral hemorrhage.  She is buried at Antioch Cemetery near Island Grove, Florida. 

Rawlings bequeathed much of her property to the University of Florida, where she had once briefly taught creative writing.    In 1970, Rawlings' Cross Creek house and farm yard were listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.  Today the property is designated as The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. 

Rawlings inspired countless young writers and artists throughout her lifetime and her legacy remains popular today.  One of her most acclaimed short stories, Gal Young ‘Un, which won first prize in the O. Henry short-story competition of 1932, was made into an acclaimed feature film by Florida-based independent filmmaker Victor Nunezin 1979.  A film based largely on Rawlings' 1942 memoir, Cross Creek, was released in 1983 starring Mary Steenburgen in the role of Rawlings.  Shot entirely in Florida, the film received four Academy Award nominations.   A postage stamp made in her honor was released by the U.S Postal Service in 2008.

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