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Meet Two Florida Writers: Zora Neal Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Updated on May 14, 2019
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This bench is easy to construct and is portable. It is an excellent spot to enjoy some cool breezes and hear the sounds of nature.

Two remarkable women stepped forward to put their thoughts into writing in this country at about the same time in history Their lives could not have been more different, or, more alike.

Both were destined to be writers.

Both were independent and outspoken women.

Both of them wished to achieve the same recognition for their writing as their male counterparts. That may, in part, account for the friendship that developed between these two gifted writers.

As I embarked on this journey to discover what had been written by and about these women, I found myself opening doors into these lives that I had not known were there to open.

Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings are two writers who spent years in Florida. Zora in Eatonville and Marjorie in Cross Creek. Both of these women left us a legacy of literary accomplishments that will serve as their gifts to humanity.


Welcome to Eatonville---Zora called this home for a time

A few weeks ago I visited Eatonville where Zora gathered much stories for her writings.
A few weeks ago I visited Eatonville where Zora gathered much stories for her writings. | Source

Eatonville Branch Library

The library in Eastonville is located in the Zora Neale  Hurston Square.
The library in Eastonville is located in the Zora Neale Hurston Square. | Source

The oldest house in Eatonville

It is planned to be the Zora Neale Hurston museum.
It is planned to be the Zora Neale Hurston museum. | Source

The Connection

Finding out how these lives were connected was the place to begin this article.

  • The Yearling (Rawlings) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (Hurston) were considered to be their finest novels.

  • These two women became acquainted during the forties when their careers were blossoming. Zora's Dust Tracks on a Road and Marjorie's Cross Creek had been published when they met.

  • Interestingly enough, both publications were the memoirs of these writers.

  • It seems their complete infatuation with many aspects of the communities about which they wrote may have caused their friendship to blossom and flourish. A warm friendship did develop between these two women who would meet and discuss their writings.

Racial Issues

There were racial issues in the world at that time and in the relationship with Zora The hotel that Norton Baskin owned, Marjorie's second husband, Castle Warden was segregated. According to some sources, the first time Zora visited she walked up the staircase in plain view of all. For her second visit, she was shown up the back staircase.*

Marjorie was openly racist according to many articles I have read. It seems that her relationship with Zora was an enigmatic one as well. They would eat, drink, and have discussions together and then she would ask Zora to sleep in the tenant quarters out back. Now, that being said, I have been told that Zora insisted on sleeping in the tenant quarters at Marjorie's Cross Creek home. On her second visit Marjorie would not allow her to do so.

Zora's portrayal of Black Americans in her writings was too Uncle Tom for many of her race. She was praised on the one hand by some, criticized by others. Read her works and judge for yourself. This writer cannot make a judgment on that aspect as I am viewing this from my point of view. I can empathize and try to understand. I can even try to walk a mile in their moccasins but my point of view will still be skewed.

*Today it is the home of Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum.

Nostaluga Alabama:
Notasulga, AL, USA

get directions

Birthplace of Zora Neale Hurston

Washington DC:
Washington, DC, USA

get directions

Birthplace of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Eatonville Floria:
Eatonville, FL, USA

get directions

"...the town was born through the vigilance of 27 African Americans in the name of freedom and self government." Zora found much to write about here.

Cross Creek, Florida:
Cross Creek, FL 32640, USA

get directions

Marjorie Rawlings found this to be her sanctuary---a rural setting nestled in an out of the way spot.

• I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.

— Zora Neale Hurston

As I opened the cover of Dust Tracks on a Road within a few paragraphs I found words written that made me shudder. Here I am a white woman writing about a Black woman's life that I really knew nothing about before I began this research.

The writer of the forward had written that in too many cases the Black experience had been written by those of my race who tried to explain the life they wrote about from their point of view and not from the experience of the person about whom they wrote. The person who made those remarks is one whose words inspire and cause us to think and rethink on many topics. Maya Angelou. "One reading of Hurston is enough to convince the reader that Hurston had had dramatic adventures and was a quintessential survivor," Maya Angelou wrote.

After I read those words, I thought I might just suspend this article even though I had already spent weeks on it. After a night's sleep I awoke with renewed determination to continue. I realized I was not trying to explain the experience of another race but only to share the remarkable persona of Zora Neale Hurston.

The main reason I decided to continue is that I did not know Zora or her writings. I had never read anything about her or about her contributions to literature that she made. It is just possible that others may also have this need to know.

What I tell here is not my interpretation of her personality or her life. I have tried to use sources that are written by those of her race so that my life experiences do not influence what is shared about this remarkable woman, Zora.

As I have begun to read works, I know that I will be coming back to add to this article or writing additional articles about both women.

There is so much to know and say about this complex woman that I am just learning about as an adult. Hopefully others will seek out her work and find why she may be considered "'one of America's most controversial writers." (Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, page 20)

Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to "jump at de sun." We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.

— Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neal Hurston

Zora Neal Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, at Bathesida Medical Hospital in Notasulga, Alabama. She was born to former slaves. They moved to Florida when she was very young about one or two years of age.

She loved the small town so much that when she wrote her autobiography she claimed she was born in Eastonville. When her Mother died, she was shuffled from family member to family member at one point caring for the children of her Father's brother. She found taking care of them not something she relished. She left and traveled from place to place in search of the next story.

She attended Barnard College and Howard University and continued her education in the world.


a visit to Cross Creek

It is my good fortune to live in rural Florida in a small town very close to Cross Creek. It is about a 15 minute drive back in time to a most prosaic setting.

Each time I go to the property that Marjorie called her Florida home, I feel as if I have stepped into the pages of that long ago time. The sounds of chickens squawking, the breeze rustling the branches of the trees, the lush green orange trees holding a promise of fruit, and the calm that I find so soothing that I can melt into the setting and perhaps remain there, all beckon to me.

The photographs provided are a virtual tour of sorts that I take you on as I walked around the property once again this lovely March morning in 2013. Take your time and feel the images as you view them.

Come along, now, step inside with me...


As you enter

As you enter the grounds, you see the sign below which display Marjoire's words. "...out of one world and into the mysterious heart of another.....that mystic loveliness of childhood again."

Whatever may be on your mind washes away as you turn and close the gate and walk back into history.

a peek at Marjorie's house through the trees


There were many hens squawking and running around the grounds.



There was no plumbing at Cross Creek when Marjorie moved there. Most outhouses did not have the screened section in the door but it was a good thing for obvious reasons. However, a definte disadvantage was there was no privacy. Marjoire entertained often so it could be problematic.

Her uncle was spied using the 'facility' during one of her parties. Her Uncle suggested she place a piece of fabric there on a stick . When the fabric was on the stick in the pathway, those approaching would know the outhouse was occupied. Not a perfect solution but it served them well.

Outhouse with Screen Door/red Flag to Indicate: Occupied


living room of Marjorie's Cross Creek home


porch where Marjorie did much of her writing


The Second Bathroom That Was Added to the Home


One of the Bedrooms


Marjorie liked to sit here so she could adore her orange trees laden with fruit.


Dining Room


Dining room

When Marjorie had guests, she would serve her gourmet meals here, that she prepared. She would always sit at the chair on the left of the photo. She chose that spot because every time someone would look up, the outhouse would be the sight to behold. She wanted to spare her guests that indignity.

She served her guests on Wedgewood or other fine china she owned. The blue glasses are from a trip to Mexico.

The beautifully finished pine floors are the only ones in her home that were finished in such a manner.

Old Fashioned Minnow Trap Kept on the Back Porch


No words can express how Marjorie felt about the Creek's surroundings as well as Marjorie.


Speaking of the road in Cross Creek she wrote:

"I have walked it in ecstasy, and in joy it is beloved.Every pine tree, every gallberry bush, every passion vine, every joree rustling in the underbrush, is vibrant. I have walked it in despair, and the red of the sunset is my own blood dissolving into the night's darkness. For all such things were on the earth before us and will survive after us, and it

is given to join ourselves with them and to be comforted."

I had become a part of Cross Creek. I was more than a writer. I was a wife, a friend, a part of the earth. Who owns Cross Creek? The earth may be borrowed, not bought, may be used, not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tenderness, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of secrecy and beyond all to time.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

A snapshot of Marjorie

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings grew up in a family where she learned to love nature---everything about it--- the fragrant soil, the varied crops that the earth could produce, and the changing of the seasons. She learned this from her Father and her grandfather who both had farms.

During her earliest years she began to gather her thoughts and turn them into stories others would enjoy. When she was 14 she had letters and stories published in the Washington Post.

Her family moved to Wisconsin when her Father died in 1913. While there, she attended the University of Wisconsin where she excelled in writing and drama. Her writings were often published in the Wisconsin Literary Magazine. She met Charles Rawlings while attended the University and they became engaged.

They moved several times over the next few years. During that time they both met with some success as writers. Time passed, they felt they needed a change, a huge change. That lead them to Alachua County to purchase seventy two acres in a very remote, rural village by the name of Cross Creek. Marjorie would write:

"This was not the Gold coast of Florida. . . . It was a primitive section off the beaten path, where men hunted and fished and worked small groves and farms for a meager living. . . . And the country was beautiful, with its mysterious swamps, its palms, its great live oaks, dripping gray Spanish moss, its deer and bear and raccoons and panthers and reptiles."

Marjorie went on to write many works that were published. The Yearling being the one for which she is best known. She and Charles Rawlings divorced and she later married Norton Baskin that seemed to be her great love.

I had become a part of Cross Creek. I was more than a writer. I was a wife, a friend, a part of the earth. Who owns Cross Creek? The earth may be borrowed, not bought, may be used, not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tenderness, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of secrecy and beyond all to time.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Women always worry about the things that men forget; men always worry about the things women remember

— Marjorie Kinan Rawlings

.....women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget.

— Zora Neal Hurston

Marjorie and Norton ---Antioch Cemetery


Calling out to Marjorie

It was a cool morning and I had on no jacket. The wind whistled through the pines that stood tall and stately around the cemetery. I walked and walked the graveyard. It was not a large one probably not more than 2 acres if that. But I could not find the grave sites of Marjorie and Norton.

I finally heard myself saying, "Marjorie, where are you?" Kind of silly I know but I was determined to walk and walk until I found it Every now and then I had to stop and pull the sand spurs out of my socks.

It must have been about my third pass through that I found the site. Pausing to see the tiny deer at her grave site and the pens left by those who passed by, I thought how she needs an orange tree nearby. She used to say that she loved sitting on her side porch because she could see the oranges when they had ripened. She hated to see them picked because all of the light went out when they were.

Turning after paying homage to her, heading back to my car, more questions came to mind about this prolific writer.

pens are left at Marjorie's grave site


Marjorie's homeplace in Cross Creek, Florida

A Little Glossary

You may wish to know about the several plants mentioned in one of the quotes by Marjorie.

gallberry bush----also known as inkberry bush is a small to medium sized shrub which is considered an important honey plant. This plant grows well in climates such as Florida's.

passion vine----viney plant with beautiful flowers ; there is even the legend of Christ's Passon that is associated with the flower.

"When Christian missionaries arrived in South America in the 16th century, they found a plant which they felt was a good omen for their mission. They called it the passion flower because to them it symbolized the death of Christ. The five sepals and five petals of the flower, which are similar in appearance, represent the disciples without Peter and Judas. The double row of colored filaments, known as the corona, signifies the halo around Christ's head or the crown of thorns. The five stamens and the three spreading styles with their flattened heads symbolize the wounds and the nails respectively. The vines tendrils resemble the whips used to scourge Christ."(plants in motion, see sources)

joree--Eastern Towhee----This brid's feathers are a striking black with reddish browns also evident. These birds like to scurry around in the undergrowth of a woods and are much noisier than a bird of their size would be expected to be.

Closing thoughts

This article is a cursory view into the lives of two women who have left their mark in the literary world.

Zora's work may have been lost to us had Alice Walker (author of the Color Purple) had not rediscovered her work and celebrated it we may not know of her. Mrs. Walker has a video on youtube that speaks in depth about Zora's writing---about how she expressed the authentic self of Black Americans. Please go there and view it.

More to come in weeks to come.

This has been an truly enlightening, enriching expereince.


Crossing the Creek: The Literary Friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ann Lillios

Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston

Mule Bone A Comedy of Negro Life, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston

Marjorie Rawlings Reader, Julia Scribner Bigham

Jump at the Sun, John Lowe

The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Cross Creek, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Cross Creek Cookery, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Their Eyes are Watching God,Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston, The Final Decades, Virginia Lynn Noylan

South Moon Under,, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Golden Apples,Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

© 2013 Patricia Scott


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