|Marjorie Rawlings at Cross Creek
My two heroines are Harper Lee and Marjorie Rawlings. They came along at a time when women in literature were still like children, seen but not heard. Their contributions to the literary world made them giants among us, but they spoke softly and both carried big sticks. Marjorie was a pioneer in more ways than one. Her move to Florida, her gutsy decision to stick it out when her husband left, and her high ethical standards make her a giant among writers. She was also the point man-(or woman)-in the battle for literary control in a non-fiction work. Her publisher left her out there to swing,( they had big Ernest Hemingway to defend), and she was left to defend herself against a long-running libel suit that drained her both emotionally and financially.
About Harper Lee
Harper Lee worked with Truman Capote, behind the scenes, to help him write his masterpiece, In Cold Blood. And then, in her own right, she published one of the most beloved books of the last 50 years, To Kill a Mockingbird. I think it still resonates because, from the time the story was published, it immediately captured one of the most important eras in our country, the Civil Rights movement. And it became timeless, sadly, because we are still fighting the battles of racial discrimination fifty years out. Unfortunately, those of us who were raised in the South have seen evidence of the naked prejudice and hatred portrayed in the book and the film. Harper Lee put it on the table, on display for all to see. And she did it in the most masterful way possible, telling the story through the eyes of a child.
In The Yearling, Marjorie Rawlings also gave us a timeless portrait of a people and a culture that will soon be extinct. She preserved the culture and ways of Cross Creek, and did so in the most careful and reverent way possible. She, too, tells the story of the Creek through the eyes of a child.
Both women have served as role models in their lives as well. Marjorie insisted that her home would not be in any way, shape, or form used to sell items for profit. Her home is preserved in much the same condition as it was the day she died. Upon her death it became a part of the University of Florida, as she donated her property to the University system. There are other support groups for Ms. Rawlings’ work, one being The Friends of Marjorie K Rawlings Farm. I, too, am a friend of Marjorie. She speaks to me all these years later, eschewing the commercialism and material gain that is so rampant in our culture and, indeed, in our own literary world.
*Harper Lee, still living yet elderly, (Died 2/25/2016), never gave interviews or took gratuitous promotional forays to promote her book. Instead, she made a conscious decision to live quietly and fairly normally in the small town in Alabama where she had always lived. There were no pretensions or glitzy book tours to sell her work. She let it stand and speak for itself. And by all accounts, has led a happy and well-adjusted existence far from the public eye. That was her choice.
Good Writing should be Number One, maybe?!
When I went to a writing conference recently, there was a young man pushing his book. He put up a list of the ten best ways to promote your work. I was the only one who laughed out loud when he displayed, “Good Writing” as the Number Five best way to sell a book! He did seem to get the irony in the statement, but still insisted that the best way to promote your work was to have an eye-catching cover for your text.
I love these two women. They were against the commercial hydra that has overtaken the publishing community. There will never be a return to the simple life that Marjorie and Harper Lee wrote about; but the values they lived by and the ideals they stood for are timeless reminders that there are some things worth fighting for, worth living for, and yes, even worth dying for.