Lawsuit Seeks to Recover Rawlings' Works, Letters
Jun. 19, 1990
Undated (AP) _ ''Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond, to all time.''
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
--- By RON WORD Associated Press Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, with her endearing portraits of rural Florida life and people, belongs to her adopted state.
Now, efforts are being made, including a federal lawsuit, to return all the manuscripts of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author to the University of Florida library, as instructed in her will.
Rawlings' widower, 89-year-old Norton Baskin, recently filed suit against the Seajay Society, a non-profit literary group in Columbia, S.C. The group has one of Rawlings' unpublished novels, some short stories and 81 letters that he wants returned.
Rawlings is well known for her depictions of ''Florida Crackers''; her 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, ''The Yearling,'' the tale of a boy and his deer in the Florida wilderness; and ''Cross Creek,'' stories of the Alachua County community where she lived from 1928 until her death in 1953. She wrote in the character-speaking vernacular that Mark Twain had utilized so well.
When she told her housekeeper, Martha, about winning the Pulitzer, the woman replied, ''Well, ain't that nice? Bet nobody else at Cross Creek got one.''
Her home at Cross Creek is a state museum, preserved as it was when Rawlings did her writing there.
Rawlings was born in Washington, D.C., in 1896 and educated in Wisconsin. She worked as a journalist in New York state, but gave it up in 1928 to live and write on the 72-acre citrus orchard she bought in Cross Creek. It was the same year Ernest Hemingway arrived in Key West.
Her first husband, Charles Rawlings, was also a journalist. They divorced, and she met Baskin, a hotel owner, several years later. They married in 1941, and had a second home in St. Augustine where she died of a brain hemmorrage.
Rawlings' life and work were portrayed by Mary Steenburgen in the critically acclaimed movie ''Cross Creek,'' in which Baskin played a minor role.
The state regents granted the university permission to either join Baskin's suit or file suit on its own to recover the manuscripts.
A decision will be made in the next few weeks, according to Barbara Wingo, associate legal counsel for the university, on how the university plans to proceed. ''We will use what we consider the best way to get the manuscripts back and have them published,'' she said.
The unpublished manuscripts Baskin is seeking to recover include numerous short works from the 1920s and a 1928 novel, ''Blood of My Blood.'' The items were stored for 26 years at the Massachusetts home of Julia Scribner Bigham, Rawlings' longtime friend and executor of her literary works.
Under provisions of Rawlings' will, the university has the right to any published and unpublished manuscripts and literary property, Wingo said.
Bigham's heirs found the works in 1987 and the Seajay Society obtained the works for $12,500.
Steve Matthews, a member of the Seajay Society, said the works were given to Bigham by Rawlings and were not part of the Rawlings' estate.
A lawsuit is being contemplated, Wingo said, because extensive negotiations with the society have failed to produce any results. ''They are not going to give them up,'' she said.
The society is dedicated to enhancing awareness of, and appreciation for, ''unduly neglected aspects of Southern writers and Southern culture,'' Matthews said.
Some of the Rawlings' works held by the society are from as early as 1914 and were probably written for a creative writing class. Others were written at the start of her literary career in Van Hornesville in upstate New York.
Baskin said his wife's writings are important to understanding her progress as a writer. They should be returned to the University of Florida, he said.
'''Blood of My Blood' ... it's a very personal thing. It's Marjorie's life,'' Baskin said.
Rawlings submitted the manuscript to the Atlantic Monthly Press in a competition. It is a story about the tense relationship between the author and her mother.
The Seajay Society wanted to publish ''Blood of My Blood'' through the University of Florida press, but was denied permission by Baskin, Matthews said.
The University of Florida library is eager to get the manuscripts, said Sam Gowan, associate director for collection management. Retrieving the Rawlings' manuscripts, he said, is important to both the library and to scholars of the author.
That would allow researchers to find most of her works under one roof.
''I think what is really most important is that the library feels it is the depository of record,'' he said.