Monday, May 26, 2014

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings by Sandra Wallus Sammons

by Sandra Wallus Sammons
Pineapple Press Biography Series 2010
Intended for ages 9 - 12


I have long been interested in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. We both graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison English Department, although eighty years apart. We both found our way to the wild scrub of central Florida and made our homes here. Our writing was fundamentally influenced by the Florida scrub. For whatever spiritual simplicity that desert or arctic landscapes bring to those that travel there, the Florida scrub has a unique harshness that speaks to some people. I always appreciated the parallels in our lives and somehow imagine that we might have been friends.

I picked up Sammons’ biography on Rawlings because I had read many of her other biographies. Her approach is straightforward, simple, and clear. I came to appreciate the lack of poetic device that so often crowds biographical writing. Instead, her prose allows the reader to connect easily to the story.  Only fifty pages long, this brisk book covers the entirety of Rawlings’ life, from her birth in Washington DC to her legacy after her death at the age of fifty-seven. Each chapter describes a particular phase in her life.

As a writer, I could relate to Rawlings’ early struggles with her writing career.  As someone who has moved a lot, I could feel the tension between being a strange newcomer and finding a place to call home. Rawlings’ life was one of wild variance. She felt most at home among the glowing oranges of her grove, but also was an honored guest at the White House and won the Pulitzer. She felt incredibly connected to the local people but ended up with a defamation suit in court.

Sammons rightfully doesn’t try to make philosophical conclusions about these dichotomies. She doesn’t overplay their importance in Rawlings’ life either. The historic photographs add wonderful visual details. I definitely recommend this book as a great introduction to an important Florida literary figure, especially for its young intended audience.

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