Literary Roots Run Deep
May 20th, 2019 by Pamela Keene

Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings sits at her typewriter at her Cross Creek home in north central Florida in the early 1940s.
Photo courtesy of the University of Florida

Talk about Pulitzer Prize-winning authors who lived in Florida, and Ernest Hemingway comes to mind. His yellow-shuttered two-story Spanish colonial home with dozens of six-toed cats may be the most-visited author’s home in the state.

Other authors also have put Florida on the literary map:

  • African-American Zora Neale Hurston wrote about racial struggles in the South during the early 20th century. Her most noted novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” was published in 1937. She died in 1960 in Fort Pierce.
  • “Elmore Leonard (“Get Shorty”) lived in North Palm Beach and Detroit. Some of his 42 novels were set in Florida.
  • U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Frost spent winters in Key West and Coconut Grove from 1940 until his death in 1963.

Perhaps the most prominent next to Hemingway is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She made her home in north central Florida. Cross Creek is legendary as the inspiration for “The Yearling,” which won the Pulitzer in 1939—the year after it was published. It was also where she wrote “Cross Creek”—a nonfiction work about her life in rural Florida.

“At one time Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was selling more books than Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe combined,” says Leslie Poole, former executive director of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society. “She even shared an editor with Hemingway.”

Marjorie and her husband, Charles, moved from New York to a large farm in Cross Creek near Gainesville and the Ocala National Forest.

“The rural area with its wildlife, swamps and forests appealed to them,” Leslie says. “She was inspired by the people and the land.”

Her original wood-frame home still stands; chickens and ducks wander the yard. Now known as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, the site includes hiking trails and picnic areas. Park rangers in period costumes conduct tours of the homestead.

“When you visit Cross Creek, it’s like stepping back into Old Florida,” Leslie says. “You see the porch where she worked and a typewriter like the one she would have used. You can imagine what it was like to live here in the 1930s.”

For more information about Marjorie’s life and works, and special events, visit https://rawlingssociety.org.

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Florida native and travel enthusiast Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. She is also a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is www.pamelakeene.com.