I like to visit places that inspire other writers to write. I got to do that again last week at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ home in Florida. Rawlings is the author of The Yearling, a novel that earned her the Pulitzer for fiction in 1939.
It was my daughter Sarah’s suggestion to see the property, now a state park. I’m glad we did, and I’m especially glad at the end of going room to room, one of the guides, Rick, talked at length about Rawlings and her experiences in Florida.
By Rick’s telling, Rawlings moved to this orange grove from Rochester, New York in 1928. She worked as a newspaper columnist but wanted to be a novelist.
Rawlings bought the property with inheritance money, figuring the oranges would bring in money while she wrote.
Things didn’t work out smoothly at the start. The Depression hit. Her first husband split. The romance stories she wrote weren’t selling.
That lasted ten years.
But then Rawlings began to write about the people and the place she now lived, and that’s when it changed. First she wrote short stories that sold, then a regional novel, South Moon Under, which almost won her the Pulitzer, and then The Yearling, which did. (The Yearling is a story about a boy’s relationship with a wild fawn.)
Rawlings did not produce a large body of work although she was made wealthy by it. She got to hobnob with big-name writers of the day, some of whom like Robert Frost, Margaret Mitchell and Thornton Wilder stayed at her Florida home.
Her obit in The New York Times had this quote: ” ‘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.’ ”
Rawlings died in 1953 of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was only 57. She left the Cross Creek property to the University of Florida, where she taught creative writing. Years later it became a state park.
Fortunately Rawlings’ second husband, Norton Baskin, put all of her furniture in storage following her death.
After the property became a state park, Baskin had each piece placed in the exact spot it occupied when Rawlings was alive. That included her bed, where she wrote in the morning, and the rustic table with the palm log base, where she wrote The Yearling. The photo above shows a typewriter (not her original), writing supplies, an ashtray and her favorite brand of cigarettes.