Although Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ novel The Yearling is well known—it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939—its author has yet to receive the same level of attention. A contemporary and friend of Zora Neale Hurston, Ernest Hemingway (with whom she fished) and Thomas Wolfe (with whom she shared the celebrated editor Maxwell Perkins), Rawlings captured the raw beauty and untamed wilderness of north central Florida and its denizens long before the area cut down its orange groves to make way for unbridled commercial development. Ann McCutchan offers an absorbing, affectionate and long overdue portrait of Rawlings and her writings in The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Author of The Yearling.
Drawing deeply on Rawlings’ archives, McCutchan chronicles the details of Rawlings’ life, from her childhood in Washington, D.C., where she won a prize in a writing contest for her story “The Reincarnation of Miss Hetty”; to her college years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she edited the literary magazine and met Charles Rawlings, who would become her first husband; to her early years as a journalist in Louisville, Kentucky, and Rochester, New York; to her eventual move to Cross Creek, Florida. There, she established herself as a writer, creating enduring, memorable portraits of rural Florida and its inhabitants, both human and nonhuman.
McCutchan looks closely at Rawlings’ letters, stories, novels and memoirs and mines the ways they reveal Rawlings’ writerly mind, her desire to probe the relationship between men and women, families and individuals, and her ability to evoke a sense of place, especially the paradise of her corner of Florida. Rawlings was also, according to McCutchan, cosmically conscious, which led her to write about the interconnections between all living things. The Life She Wished to Live is the biography that Rawlings has long deserved.