A native Washingtonian, Marjorie Kinnan was born on August 8, 1896 in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C., single child to Arthur Frank Kinnan, an attorney with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and Ida May Traphagen Kinnan.
Marjorie has claimed that she inherited her love of nature from her father, with whom she was very close. Nurturing a rapport for rich, natural settings in favor over more urban environments and cities, Marjorie spent her childhood summers visiting her mother’s family farm in Southern Michigan. Her affinity for nature surfaced prominently throughout her writing very early on - as early as the age of six, Marjorie began publishing letters and short stories in the children’s section of various local newspapers until her teenaged years. At 15 years old, she won a prize for her story titled, “The Reincarnation of Miss Hetty.”
A few years later, upon her father’s passing, Marjorie and her mother moved to Wisconsin, where Marjorie attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She pursued drama and writing, thriving at her studies, eventually earning a degree in English with honors. While working for her university’s Wisconsin Literary Magazine, she met and fell in love with Charles Rawlings, whom she later married in 1919.
The newlyweds moved briefly to Charles’ hometown of Rochester, New York, before moving to Louisville, Kentucky, both in search of more meaningful writing jobs they could enjoy. Following short stings as a feature writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal and a columnist for “Live Women in Louisville,” Marjorie moved back to Rochester to begin writing for the Rochester Evening Journal and to focus on other personal writings, including a poetry series and a novel.
Both Marjorie and Charles often felt restless with their lives and careers. Upon receiving a small inheritance from her mother’s passing, Marjorie decided to purchase a farm in Florida, close to a small rural community called Cross Creek. The move reignited her passion for nature, and she felt deeply connected with the wilderness of the surrounding lands as much as she was fascinated by the lives of its inhabitants - both human and non-human.
Marjorie began recording detailed descriptions of various plants and animals, as well as observations regarding the local residents’ lives, Southern dialect and food recipes. She would later use these writings as fodder for her published works. Her first novel, South Moon Under, about her experiences with moonshining was published in 1933, and was selected as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Marjorie later wrote Cross Creek, an autobiographical account of her life and those of her neighbors in Florida, and then finally Cross Creek Cookery, a compilation of Southern recipes she was most fond of and passionate about.
Her most popular work, however, was The Yearling, a coming-of-age fiction novel chronicling a young farmer boy’s life growing up with his adopted pet fawn. Published in 1938, the work instantly became a best-seller, earning Marjorie a Pulitzer Prize the very next year. While her book was written long before the concept of young-adult fiction existed, the novel experienced such success that it was later turned into a film adaptation, and is still included in academic reading lists today.
In Marjorie’s later years, she taught creative writing at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She left the school most of her property upon her death by a ruptured aneurysm, in 1953. Many say her reputation and writings have outlived her contemporary peers.
Her children’s book, The Secret River, was published post-humously in 1956 and earned a Newbery Honor Award. In 2008, the United States Postal Office unveiled a stamp in her honor.
By Kim Tran