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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.

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

  1. 4 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. 4 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!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lissa

    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.

  5. 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.

  6. 4 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Debra

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nancy R. Hammond

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bob Young Jr.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jan VS

  11. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline Sperandio

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    Sydney Adin

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    John R

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brittley Wise

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jack Long

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    Diana Duncan

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    Morgiana

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    Sue Em

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sydney

  21. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

  22. 4 out of 5

    M. Sarki

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anne, BPL Librarian

  25. 5 out of 5

    Faye

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    Steven Schend

  27. 5 out of 5

    Towandajane

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    Ilene Harris

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    Janet

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    Brent

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    Neile B

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    Frederick Rotzien

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    Leah

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    Rachella Baker

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    Lydia Wallace

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    Douglass Abramson

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    Cody

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    Tess Marie

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    Christine Eckstein

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    Daria

  42. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

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    Sam

  44. 5 out of 5

    Kye Cantey

  45. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Gerhart

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