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The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling

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Washington, DC, born and Wisconsin educated, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was an unlikely author of a coming-of-age novel about a poor central Florida child and his pet fawn—much less one that has become synonymous with Florida literature writ large. Rawlings was a tough, ambitious, and independent woman who refused the conventions of her early-twentieth-century upbringing. Det Washington, DC, born and Wisconsin educated, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was an unlikely author of a coming-of-age novel about a poor central Florida child and his pet fawn—much less one that has become synonymous with Florida literature writ large. Rawlings was a tough, ambitious, and independent woman who refused the conventions of her early-twentieth-century upbringing. Determined to forge a literary career beyond those limitations, she found her voice in the remote, hardscrabble life of Cross Creek, Florida. There, Rawlings purchased a commercial orange grove and discovered a fascinating world out of which to write—and a dialect of the poor, swampland community that the literary world had yet to hear. She employed her sensitive eye, sharp ear for dialogue, and philosophical spirit to bring to life this unknown corner of America in vivid, tender detail, a feat that earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. Her accomplishments came at a price: a failed first marriage, financial instability, a contentious libel suit, alcoholism, and physical and emotional upheaval. With intimate access to Rawlings’s correspondence and revealing early writings, Ann McCutchan uncovers a larger-than-life woman who writes passionately and with verve, whose emotions change on a dime, and who drinks to excess, smokes, swears, and even occasionally joins in on an alligator hunt. The Life She Wished to Live paints a lively portrait of Rawlings, her contemporaries—including her legendary editor, Maxwell Perkins, and friends Zora Neale Hurston, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and the Florida landscape and people that inspired her.


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Washington, DC, born and Wisconsin educated, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was an unlikely author of a coming-of-age novel about a poor central Florida child and his pet fawn—much less one that has become synonymous with Florida literature writ large. Rawlings was a tough, ambitious, and independent woman who refused the conventions of her early-twentieth-century upbringing. Det Washington, DC, born and Wisconsin educated, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was an unlikely author of a coming-of-age novel about a poor central Florida child and his pet fawn—much less one that has become synonymous with Florida literature writ large. Rawlings was a tough, ambitious, and independent woman who refused the conventions of her early-twentieth-century upbringing. Determined to forge a literary career beyond those limitations, she found her voice in the remote, hardscrabble life of Cross Creek, Florida. There, Rawlings purchased a commercial orange grove and discovered a fascinating world out of which to write—and a dialect of the poor, swampland community that the literary world had yet to hear. She employed her sensitive eye, sharp ear for dialogue, and philosophical spirit to bring to life this unknown corner of America in vivid, tender detail, a feat that earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. Her accomplishments came at a price: a failed first marriage, financial instability, a contentious libel suit, alcoholism, and physical and emotional upheaval. With intimate access to Rawlings’s correspondence and revealing early writings, Ann McCutchan uncovers a larger-than-life woman who writes passionately and with verve, whose emotions change on a dime, and who drinks to excess, smokes, swears, and even occasionally joins in on an alligator hunt. The Life She Wished to Live paints a lively portrait of Rawlings, her contemporaries—including her legendary editor, Maxwell Perkins, and friends Zora Neale Hurston, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and the Florida landscape and people that inspired her.

30 review for The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I went into this biography only somewhat familiar with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings--mostly from the movie version of The Yearling and the movie Cross Creek based on her life. As I read, my interest was held and then I was riveted. By the end, I was moved and a fan. Rawlings was one of the 1930s writers whose career was benefited by Max Perkins of Scribner, the legendary editor who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. I had read the biography Max Perkins by A. Scott Be I went into this biography only somewhat familiar with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings--mostly from the movie version of The Yearling and the movie Cross Creek based on her life. As I read, my interest was held and then I was riveted. By the end, I was moved and a fan. Rawlings was one of the 1930s writers whose career was benefited by Max Perkins of Scribner, the legendary editor who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. I had read the biography Max Perkins by A. Scott Berg--forty-plus years ago!--but did not recall Rawlings. I spent my teen years reading 20th c writers, including those Perkins mentored, but I don't remember finding women writers listed on the 'greats.' Where was Rawlings? Likely, relegated to the children's section, represented by The Yearling. Rawlings's mother had hoped for more from life. She determined her daughter would achieve what she had not. When no musical ability was displayed, but Marjorie won a prize for a story, her mother supported (and pushed) her into writing. After college, Rawlings became a hack writer and journalist until she felt ready to assume her life's real work as a writer. She and her husband, also a writer, purchased a Florida orange grove in a backwater community, setting up in a ramshackle house without electricity or plumbing. Running a business took much of their energy and time and money, but the Cracker and African American neighbors also gave her material for her work. Rawlings’s research brought her to live with neighbors to experience their lives, and she went on crocodile and snake hunts. Rawling's life held many disappointments and challenges. Her first marriage failed, her husband jealous of her success. She struggled with alcohol use and continual health concerns. Her personal relationships were tested, including an extended lawsuit. She suffered from doubt. She also achieved the Pulitzer Prize and a second marriage with a supporting and loving husband. I had moments of discomfort with Rawling's language of white supremacy, referencing her African American friends and servants by what we today would consider derogatory terms, but which represented typical white mores at that time. McCutchan takes readers on a journey into Rawling's transformation from accepting her inherited values to becoming friends with fellow writer Zora Neale Hurston and raising her voice for equal rights. Rawlings also became involved with environmental groups. A study in contrasts, Rawlings could tap into her society background, was friends with writers and publisher's daughters, or be bawdy and rowdy, toting a gun on a hunt. She even went into the scrub wearing a silk nightgown to rescue an animal. I loved her esteem for Thomas Wolfe and her heartbreak over his early loss before he could reach his artistic maturity. Like so many writers who came out of the 1920s, she struggled with alcohol dependency. This is terrific biography. I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    I have a penchant for reading biographies of authors, but not necessarily reading their writings. I have heard of the Yearling but have never read it. This is a well written and researched and an informative biography. I learned a lot about the life of Marjorie Rawlings and her work. I enjoyed her family background the most. Thanks to W. W. Norton and Edelweiss for the advance read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    My take on Marjorie K Rawlings is that she LIVED HER LIFE - not someone else's. When she was trying to write a book - she wrote what she saw and what she heard from the old-timers. She didn't hold back. Marjorie K Rawlings would not have been disappointed with what was written about her adventurous life. I believe she would have been pleased with Ann McCutchan on what she uncovered and verified the facts of her life. AND what a life it was. She was ahead of her time on civil rights and her sensi My take on Marjorie K Rawlings is that she LIVED HER LIFE - not someone else's. When she was trying to write a book - she wrote what she saw and what she heard from the old-timers. She didn't hold back. Marjorie K Rawlings would not have been disappointed with what was written about her adventurous life. I believe she would have been pleased with Ann McCutchan on what she uncovered and verified the facts of her life. AND what a life it was. She was ahead of her time on civil rights and her sensitive feelings on how people looked at the black culture. This is a BIOGRAPHY that should be read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sandy Ostrom McInvale

    I enjoyed finding out more about MKR’s life in this extensively researched book. If you are a fan of Rawlings you need to add it to your list!

  5. 4 out of 5

    martha Boyle

    Very well written and researched biography. I became more interested in the author of The Yearling after I visited her home at Cross Creek in Florida last spring.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lissa00

    Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Yearling. That book and her others are mostly based in the northern Florida scrub and swamps in which she made her home. Her life and work was centered around her adopted home and much of this book discusses her time there. She was an entertaining correspondent and this biography relies heavily on her letters to family, friends, other authors and especially her editor, the renowned, Max Perkins of Scribner. This is a compre Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Yearling. That book and her others are mostly based in the northern Florida scrub and swamps in which she made her home. Her life and work was centered around her adopted home and much of this book discusses her time there. She was an entertaining correspondent and this biography relies heavily on her letters to family, friends, other authors and especially her editor, the renowned, Max Perkins of Scribner. This is a comprehensive biography that does a good job of grappling with the more unsavory parts of her personality, fueled by a reliance on alcohol, as well as her evolving yet still problematic, depictions of her Black neighbors and employees. It's been a long time since I have read her seminal novel, but I still really enjoyed this extensive glimpse of her life. I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    "Her reaction [to the work of Henry James] this time proved how much the reception of a book depends on one's state of mind." Edwin Way Teale, the naturalist, and his wife were invited to Marjorie's. She wasn't up yet when they arrived, and on a picnic outing, they found her to be "generous, but not gracious or thoughtful." Well, I've visited Cross Creek many times and thoroughly enjoyed reading Rawlings' books. I'm probably a rather smitten fan who knew about her ego and her drinking. However thi "Her reaction [to the work of Henry James] this time proved how much the reception of a book depends on one's state of mind." Edwin Way Teale, the naturalist, and his wife were invited to Marjorie's. She wasn't up yet when they arrived, and on a picnic outing, they found her to be "generous, but not gracious or thoughtful." Well, I've visited Cross Creek many times and thoroughly enjoyed reading Rawlings' books. I'm probably a rather smitten fan who knew about her ego and her drinking. However this book was a sad disappointment to me. The writing was uneven and sometimes dry and almost pedantic. Frequently the tone of the author reveals the mixed emotions she had about Rawlings. Sometimes it seemed as if she really disliked Rawlings, and it was really too bad not to offer more about dinner guests and overnight guests at the farm. There are some tremendous stories there! Perhaps I was just wishing for a full-hearted tribute!!...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Featherbooks

    "She was really three people at least, and you never knew which one it was going to be," said her husband, Norton Baskin, "One was as prim as a New England schoolteacher, she was just that straight-laced and prim; and then again she was an absolute bawd, just like a French girl; and--the hard-working, struggling writer and artist." Inspirational and entertaining story of this hard-working, hard-drinking activist author of The Yearling and Cross Creek, among other titles. Well written and thorough "She was really three people at least, and you never knew which one it was going to be," said her husband, Norton Baskin, "One was as prim as a New England schoolteacher, she was just that straight-laced and prim; and then again she was an absolute bawd, just like a French girl; and--the hard-working, struggling writer and artist." Inspirational and entertaining story of this hard-working, hard-drinking activist author of The Yearling and Cross Creek, among other titles. Well written and thoroughly researched story of another talented early 20th C. author edited by Max Perkins.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marvin Fender

    I received this book via Goodreads Giveaway. It took a very long time but it finally came. I very mush enjoyed this biography, Ms McCutchan was thorough and enlightening. I read The Yearling ages ago but never read any other books by Ms Rawlings. After this bio I realize I've missed some important stories. Not every biographer can present their subject so well that the reader wants to find more books by the subject. The author is a real wordsmith and it was fun and informative and I will be watc I received this book via Goodreads Giveaway. It took a very long time but it finally came. I very mush enjoyed this biography, Ms McCutchan was thorough and enlightening. I read The Yearling ages ago but never read any other books by Ms Rawlings. After this bio I realize I've missed some important stories. Not every biographer can present their subject so well that the reader wants to find more books by the subject. The author is a real wordsmith and it was fun and informative and I will be watching for more books from Ms McCutchan.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne

    This is a wonderful book about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It is a biography which is my favorite genre to read. I have heard of the Yearling but have never read it. She wrote in the 1930,s which is before I was born. She was a very educated lady but she was very independent and ahead of her time because she refused the conventions of her time. So she moved to the remote Cross Creek, Florida where she bought an orange grove. She then started to write about the things she saw there. She was a large This is a wonderful book about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It is a biography which is my favorite genre to read. I have heard of the Yearling but have never read it. She wrote in the 1930,s which is before I was born. She was a very educated lady but she was very independent and ahead of her time because she refused the conventions of her time. So she moved to the remote Cross Creek, Florida where she bought an orange grove. She then started to write about the things she saw there. She was a larger than life woman which I admire.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    It was hard for me to connect to this book (for reasons not entirely related to the writing or subject matter). The writing was nice, however, I think I just wasn't as interested in a complete, detailed account of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings as I thought I was when I bought this book. It was hard for me to connect to this book (for reasons not entirely related to the writing or subject matter). The writing was nice, however, I think I just wasn't as interested in a complete, detailed account of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings as I thought I was when I bought this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Rickman

    A Fabulous Book Marjorie’s story, to me, is an inspiration. As an author myself, I both agonized and celebrated with her. Ann McCutchan made Marjorie come alive , allowing we readers to live “life” with her — good and bad.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Sharp

    Absolutely, one of the best books I’ve read all year or actually in a long time. This is a very comprehensive biography and fascinating. It has spun me off into the world of The Yearling and several other authors that influenced Marjorie. I highly recommend this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    DNF - maybe this would have intrigued me more if I had read the Yearling. I did not and just could not care enough.

  15. 4 out of 5

    winslow

    Very well written. In addition to being about her life, it was a great snapshot of all the writers of that time and how they all connected together.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cara

    A thorough biography for anyone who enjoys Rawlings or Florida’s natural areas.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    not at all what i expected. They can't all be 5 stars! not at all what i expected. They can't all be 5 stars!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Debra

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nancy R. Hammond

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mindy Abel

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bob Young Jr.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hugh M. Jacob

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dan Grimsley

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine Bennett

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chad Germany

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jan VS

  30. 5 out of 5

    Susan Taylor

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