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On June 30, 1936 the epic novel by Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell, “Gone with the Wind,” was first published. Most everyone is familiar with the story by either reading the book or watching the 1939 movie, which starred Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. 

Certainly Mitchell’s book is fascinating enough, but what has always been of particular interest to me is the life and times of Mitchell, and the story of how she wrote the famous novel.

So the other morning, when Garrison Keillor featured Mitchell in his “The Writer’s Almanac,” on WAMU, I found myself hanging on every word. (Of course, no one tells a story like Keillor.)

According to a Web site devoted to the now-historic site where she lived on Peachtree Street in Atlanta Ga., when she wrote the book, “margaretmitchellhouse.com,” Mitchell was born in Atlanta on Nov. 8, 1900.  As a child, she was fascinated by Civil War stories.

The Web site biography notes that Mitchell was an “imaginative girl (who) wrote, produced, and directed plays, casting her friends, and inviting the neighborhood to the porch performances.”

It seems that Mitchell was a bit of a “free spirit,” who “scandalized Atlanta society by performing a provocative dance at a debutante ball. Two years later the headstrong flapper married Berrien “Red” Upshaw… a bootlegger…

“Financial pressures led her to begin writing for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine where she earned $25 per week. Their stormy marriage ended in divorce in 1924. Within a year she married John Marsh … an editor at the paper.”

Keillor picks up the story at that point, “In 1920, Mitchell fell off a horse and suffered terrible injuries. She sort of recovered from the fall, but she kept reinjuring herself in different ways… (L)ater she had to quit her job as a reporter… and stay in bed.”
 
The Web site says that it was during her convalescence period, “she began writing the book that would make her famous.”

Of course, Keillor’s explanation is more fun.  “Her husband, a newspaper editor, would go to the Atlanta library and bring her back piles of books to read so she could occupy herself while bedridden. One day, he came home and said, ‘I have brought you all of the books that I think you can handle from the library.  I wish you would write one yourself.’

“He then went out and got a Remington typewriter. When he presented it … he said, ‘Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a new career.’ 

“She asked him what she should write about, and her editor-husband gave her the famous ‘Write what you know’ line.”

And that is all I know for right now. Hope you and your family have a great Fourth of July weekend.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com or visit him at www.westminstermarylandonline.net.


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