UNITED STATES

Cross Creek, FL

The Pulitzer Prize–Winning House That Crackers Built

The table at her house in Cross Creek, Florida where Marjorie Rawlings wrote The Yearling

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote The Yearling, her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, at this table, on a typewriter similar to this one, in her house in Cross Creek, Florida. The house is now a shrine to the author.
MITCHELL SMYTH/Meridian Writers’ Group

MARJORIE KINNAN Rawlings wanted to get away from urban life, to find “some small place of enchantment” (her words) where she could write.

She found it here among the poor white sharecroppers of north-central Florida, the people known as “crackers.” She bought a citrus grove, she and husband Charles moved in and she unpacked her typewriter.

There was no indoor plumbing and power came from a generator. And there was no telephone. A ranger-guide at the grove, now a state park, takes up the story: “One day in 1939 the girl from the grocery store a couple of miles away came running up. ‘You’re wanted on the phone,’ she said. ‘You’ve won something.’”

Indeed she had. She’d won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Yearling, about a cracker couple and their young son and his pet fawn.

The farmhouse—actually three cracker houses stitched together by walkways—is preserved much as it was then. The citrus trees are laden, there’s a vintage Oldsmobile in a lean-to, blue herons wade in the creek and chickens, ducks and cats wander around. Park rangers, in 1930s period garb, take visitors—an estimated 30,000 a year—around.

During the day Rawlings and her husband (they divorced the same year Rawlings won her Pulitzer) built fences, pruned trees, slaughtered hogs, picked oranges and grapefruit and fought storms and flies. And now and then Marjorie went off to live for a while with cracker families, absorbing, as historian Webb Garrison notes, “the colour, cadence and unremitting despair of Florida life in the 1930s.”

Then she put it all on paper, pounding her typewriter, a similar model to the one you’ll find today in the table in the living room, near drafts of some of her manuscripts.

In 1942 she published the memoir Cross Creek, recording her early years struggling on the citrus grove. Some critics call it her best work but it has been overshadowed by the success of The Yearling. Both Cross Creek and The Yearling have been made into motion pictures.

Rawlings didn’t spend all her time working the farm and writing. Guides say she liked to party now and then. There was Prohibition when she first moved in and she would go to places deep in the woods and drink with moonshiners and bring back a five-gallon jar. Moonshiners figure in several of her stories.

After the Pulitzer win, Florida, which lacked the literary aristocracy of some other states, basked in the shadow of Rawlings’ success. She welcomed the likes of Robert Frost, A. J. Cronin, Dylan Thomas and Wendell Wilkie to Cross Creek. Ernest Hemingway became a friend—she has said his crisp style was an inspiration—and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt entertained her at the White House.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1953, aged 57. She is buried in a cemetery near her peaceful citrus grove in Cross Creek. Her grave marker reads simply: “By her writing she endeared herself to the people of the world.”

 

ACCESS

For more information go to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park website at www.floridastateparks.org/marjoriekinnanrawlings/.

For information on travel in Florida go to the state’s Visit Florida website at www.visitflorida.com.