‘The Yearling,' an enduring story of Cracker Florida, 75 years later
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 6:17 p.m.
In 1938, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings captivated readers with her tale of a North Florida boy who raises a fawn over the course of a year.
If you go
“The Year of the Yearling: Celebrating a Literary Classic”: A series of public events through May 31, 2014, that celebrate Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Yearling.”
Kickoff: An exhibit of movie photos and mounted wildlife, 7-7:30 p.m. Sunday, Matheson Museum, 513 E. University Ave., followed by free screening of “The Yearling” at 7:30 p.m. on the lawn behind the museum. The exhibit runs through May 1.
“The Year of the Yearling: The Author Creating the Book”: Florence Turcotte, Anne Pierce and Betty Jean Steinshouer discuss Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her times, 7 p.m. Friday, Matheson Museum. Free.
Event schedule: www.floridastateparks.org/marjoriekinnanrawlings/events.cfm
Seventy-five years later, "The Yearling" still makes appearances on summer reading lists, and Rawlings' depiction of the fictional Baxter family's life in "Cracker Florida" remains popular among children and adults.
Over the next year, the Matheson Museum, University of Florida's George A. Smathers Libraries, the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park are teaming up to celebrate the book's publication in April 1938 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (then called the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel) it won in April the following year.
"The Year of the Yearling: Celebrating a Literary Classic" kicks off at 7 p.m. Sunday with a free exhibit and screening of "The Yearling" at the Matheson Museum, and continues with other events through May 2014.
"We're really celebrating the book from publication to Pulitzer," said Florence Turcotte, a literary manuscripts archivist at the Smathers Libraries. "The story takes place in a year, from April to April, and we thought it would give people a lot of opportunities to participate."
"The Yearling," which also was named the best-selling novel of 1938, tells the story of Jody Baxter, a boy growing up in the Florida scrub in the late 19th century who adopts a fawn that he names Flag.
In 1946, MGM adapted the novel into a critically acclaimed movie starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. The movie was filmed at the Juniper Prairie Wilderness in the Ocala National Forest.
Sunday's exhibit features several stuffed versions of animal characters from "The Yearling" as well as several translated copies of the book and miniature copies that were given to World War II soldiers, who would keep the books in their pockets during the war.
"The items have been put together in a fashion that diverges into Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' life," said Alicia Antone, executive director of the Matheson Museum. "This is our way of honoring a legacy that came right out of our backyard."
Turcotte said the novel's theme of growing up is highly relatable to adolescents.
"We're calling the book a literary classic because it's assigned to middle school students, but the book can speak to adults as well," Turcotte said. "People can relate to it on different levels."
The Matheson Museum also will host "The Yearling: The Author Creating the Book" on Friday. During this program, Turcotte and Anne Pierce, vice president of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society, will discuss how Rawlings came to write the book, as well as the people and places involved in its creation.
Turcotte said a real draw for the event will be actress Betty Jean Steinshouer, who will portray the author in her own words and talk about being a female writer in the 1930s.
While Steinshouer is in character, guests will be able to interact with her and ask questions.
"It brings the voice of the author to life, to the present time," Turcotte said. "It's an entertaining way of learning about the creative writing process."
Born on Aug. 8, 1896, in Washington, D.C., Rawlings became interested in writing at an early age. She received a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1918 and wrote for The Louisville Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., and The Rochester Journal in Rochester, N.Y.
While she and her first husband, Charles Rawlings, were living in Rochester, they took a vacation to Cross Creek in 1928. From then, it was no looking back.
"The people and landscape resonated with her, as well as the plants and animals," said Valerie Rivers, park manager at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. "She wanted to know the meanings and names of everything around her."
That same year, with a small inheritance from her mother, Rawlings purchased a 72-acre orange grove in Cross Creek where she lived until her death in 1953.
Her house is now an attraction in the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, which draws more than 20,000 visitors each year, Rivers said.
Since "The Yearling" is set in the 1870s, Rawlings did research for the novel by talking to locals about what life was like then, she said.
If Rawlings were alive today, Rivers said she probably wouldn't be surprised that her book is still popular.
"I think she was surprised at the time that it became so popular so quickly, but not that it endured," she said. "She wanted to write a classic novel that would hold its own in the long run."