Rawlings's Life


Mrs. Rawlings, 57, Novelist, Is Dead

The New York Times, December 16, 1953

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., Dec. 15 (UP) - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whose story of a Florida backwoods boy won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939, died of a cerebral hemorrhage last night in Flagler Hospital. She was taken ill yesterday morning.

The death of the 57-year-old novelist cut short her work on a new project - the life of Ellen Glasgow, the Virginia novelist. Mrs. Rawlings had planned to devote five years of research and writing to it.

Surviving is her second husband, Martin Baskin, to whom, she was married in 1941.

The funeral service will be held here at 11 A.M. tomorrow at the Craig Funeral Home. Mrs. Rawlings will be buried near her Cross Creek farm near Gainesville.

Failure for Ten Years

For more than ten years, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings tried hard to become a fiction writer - with complete failure. She made up her mind to give up.

"Then I thought, well, just one more," she told a New York Times reporter years later. That short story "sold like a shot, and I have had no trouble since," Mrs. Rawlings said.

"No trouble" was a modest understatement for a success that included a Pulitzer Prize novel and two others in the final consideration for the award, two honorary college degrees and a fortune in book club royalties and movie rights.

"The Yearling," Mrs. Rawlings' greatest triumph, was hailed in 1938 as a "classic" of American popular fiction. While considering her writing as lacking the depth and "tough-mindedness" of great literature, critics nevertheless praised her skill in reproducing the color, characters, speech, local customs and way of life of the backwoods of Florida.

Marjorie Kinnan was born on Aug. 8, 1896, in Washington, where her father, Arthur Frank Kinnan, was a patent attorney for the Government. The girl acquired her knowledge of farm life early by spending her holidays on the family farm in Maryland.

Elected to Phi Beta Kappa

She was graduated from Wisconsin University in 1918 with a Phi Beta Kappa key and was one of the best English students of Prof. William Ellery Leonard, the poet. She had been writing for school publications since the age of 14.

After college, she worked during World War I as a publicity agent for the Young Women's Christian Association headquarters in Washington. In 1919, she was married to Charles Rawlings, also a writer. They were divorced fourteen years later. For ten years, Mrs. Rawlings was a reporter for The Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal and The Rochester (N.Y.) Journal, and wrote syndicated verse for United Features. All during these journalistic years, she also was toiling at short stories, but sold not a one.

In 1928, Mrs. Rawlings retired on a seventy-two acre orange farm she had bought in the remote swamps of north-central Florida, near the hamlet of Hawthorn, which she had discovered on a visit to her in-laws. There she persevered until "Jacob's Ladder" won a novelette contest in Scribner's magazine in 1931.

After that first success, another short story, "Gal Young Un," won an O. Henry Memorial Prize in 1933, and she sent her first novel, "South Moon Under" to Scribner's. All these works were "regional" to her Florida home.

'South Moon Under' in 1933

The late Max Perkins, Scribner's great editor and talent scout, directed the rewriting of "South Moon Under" and it became a Book of the Month Club selection in 1933. "Golden Apples" almost won the Pulitzer Prize in 1935. "The Yearling" did win it in 1939.

This sentimental story, telling how a 12-year-old boy grows up to the harsh facts of life by accepting the necessity for his pet deer to be killed, has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in many editions, and was made into a popular Technicolor film.

Mrs. Rawlings wrote a non-fiction book about her farm, "Cross Creek," another Book of the Month choice, in 1942, and a Florida cookbook the same year. She left the swamps briefly for upper New York State, producing "The Sojourner," a novel, last year.

But it was the Florida of hammock trees and palmetto and alligator hunters that made Mrs. Rawlings famous. "When one hears the term Florida Cracker, one thinks at once of her work," The Times commented. She did not produce a great deal in twenty-two years, considering the demand for her every line.

"Writing is agony for me," she once told an interviewer. "I work at it eight hours every day, hoping to get six pages, but I am satisfied with three."

Source: "Mrs. Rawlings, 57, Novelist, Is Dead." The New York Times. 16 Dec. 1953