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Friday, October 17, 2014

Author Spotlight: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

This weekend, I got to go on a BIG KID FIELD TRIP with my awesome Literature of Place class. In light of reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlins' The Yearling and William Bartram's 18th century Travels, we traveled north on I-75 to a few notable places south of Gainesville.

Our first stop was Cross Creek, the tiny hamlet where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote her Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Yearling, along with tons of short stories, several novels, and a memoir named after her town. She even published a cookbook, Cross Creek Cookery!

You might remember watching the movie based on The Yearling starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. Whether you liked it or not (I remember loving it as a kid!), you should definitely pick up the book. It's beautifully written and thoroughly researched. Rawlings based it on a real family she knew who lived in that area and had a pet deer. I loved her descriptions of Florida's subtle beauty in its springs and forest, and in the wildlife that make these places their home.

The family that Rawlings wrote about in The Yearling lived further east, closer to Volusia and Lake George. But still, she did most of her writing sitting at the table on her front porch, overlooking an orange grove. Her constant companions were the chicken and geese who roamed the land.

What I would give to have such a gorgeous writing space! And check out those chairs, made from original deer hide! (All of the furniture in her house is original, donated to the state park by her second husband, Norton Baskin.)

I'm happiest when I'm outdoors. Which means, when I've got my writer hat on, I'm happiest when I am writing outdoors - or as close to the out-of-doors as possible. So a sun-drenched space like this one, with a view of the trees and the sky and the forest, is my ideal workspace. Unfortunately, my current home does not have a screened in porch, and my office is in a dungeon. Sooooooooo... I'll have to wait for that sweet writing porch. One day!

Rawlings was known for being independent and strong-willed - she needed to be to live on her own in a wild place like Cross Creek! She loved solitude and spent many weeks on her own, writing and being in nature. She wrote about feeling "vibrations" from the land and, if you read The Yearling, you'll understand the depths of her relationship to the natural world. 

Although she could be reclusive at times, she was a great cook and loved hosting people at her home. Zora Neale Hurston and Ernest Hemingway were just a few of her famous friends who spent time at Cross Creek. She even said that she got "as much satisfaction from preparing a perfect dinner for a few good friends as from turning out a perfect paragraph in my writing." I was fascinated by all the mementos of her homesteading lifestyle, from cast iron pans and ancient coffee cans to an ice cabinet. Writing and living close to the land -- what else can you ask for??

Rawlings' book Cross Creek was a memoir of sorts, in which she wrote about life in the backcountry of central Florida and the neighbors who shared this world with her. I haven't read it yet, but I plan to! As a writer of creative nonfiction, it's important to read different examples of memoir and see how it has evolved over time. Unfortunately, Cross Creek got her in a bit of trouble with a  good friend who did not appreciate the way that Rawlings described her in the book. The friend sued her for invasion of privacy, and although Rawlings was only ordered to pay $1 in damages, the long court proceedings took a lot out of her. After the incident, she didn't spend as much time at Cross Creek anymore, favoring her New York home instead, and she never wrote about Cross Creek again.

Either way, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is a great example of a strong woman, and a talented and dedicated writer. I admire her fierce spirit, and I hope I get to live and write in such a beautiful place myself one day.