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Crossing the Creek

The Literary Friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Anna Lillios

Publication Year: 2011

One of the twentieth century's most intriguing and complicated literary friendships was that between Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In death, their reputations have reversed, but in the early 1940s Rawlings had already achieved wild success with her best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling, while Hurston had published Their Eyes Were Watching God to unfavorable critical reviews.

When they met, both were at the height of their literary powers. Hurston appears to have sought out Rawlings as a writer who could understand her talent and as a potential patron and champion. Rawlings did become an advocate for Hurston, and by all accounts a warm friendship developed between the two. Yet at every turn, Rawlings's own racism and the societal norms of the Jim Crow South loomed on the horizon, until her friendship with Hurston transformed Rawlings's views on the subject and made her an advocate for racial equality.

Anna Lillios's Crossing the Creek is the first book to examine the productive and complex relationship between these two major figures. Is there truth to the story that Hurston offered to work as Rawlings's maid? Why did Rawlings host a tea for Hurston in St. Augustine? In what ways did each write the friendship into their novels? Using interviews with individuals who knew both women, as well as incisive readings of surviving letters, Lillios examines these questions and many others in this remarkable book.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. ix-xvi

Many people have supported and encouraged my work on this project. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to librarians, students, friends, fellow scholars, and family for their generosity through the years I was writing this book. ...

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pp. 1-13

On 6 July 1942, a ten-year-old boy accompanied his mother to a literary tea at the Castle Warden, a posh segregated hotel in St. Augustine, Florida. The boy, Donald Wilson, had been born to privilege and was used to mingling among St. Augustine’s elite white society. ...

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1. "Friendship is a mysterious and ocean-bottom thing": The Hurston-Rawlings Friendship

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pp. 15-41

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings first acknowledged Zora Neale Hurston’s existence a few years before they met, as early as 1939. Rawlings had been reading Hurston’s books, and she mentions her name in a lecture titled “Regional Literature of the South” that she delivered at the annual luncheon of the National Council ...

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2. “Thinking in heirogliphics”: Mastering the Craft of Writing

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pp. 42-99

Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote books that celebrated small central Florida villages that were about eighty miles apart. Eatonville is located in Orlando, next door to the mainly upscale, small towns of Maitland and Winter Park, and is noted for being the first incorporated all-black community, founded in 1887. ...


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pp. 100-114

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3. Looking Back: Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road and Rawlings’s Cross Creek

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pp. 115-157

After Hurston and Rawlings wrote their great American novels in the 1930s and succeeded in channeling their voices into stories that captured the attention of both the public and critics, they had difficulty switching genres from novels to their autobiographies, Dust Tracks on a Road and Cross Creek, both published in 1942. ...

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4. The Road Ahead: Hurston’s and Rawlings’s Last Works

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pp. 158-182

The 1940s were a time of terrible troubles for both Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. After the success of their Eatonville and Cross Creek works in the 1930s, both women turned away from their original source material in search of new ways to define themselves as writers and as human beings. ...

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pp. 183-186

Time ran out for both Hurston and Rawlings. Hurston was seeking to expand her vision of the world outward by studying King Herod and the dawn of civilization. Rawlings, too, had outgrown her Cross Creek mentality, perhaps as a result of the devastating “invasion of privacy” trial. Her vision turned more inward, as she explored the demons inside ...

Works Cited

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pp. 187-192


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pp. 193-198

About the Author

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pp. 199-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048246
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813035000
Print-ISBN-10: 0813035007

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 16 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 801843014
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Crossing the Creek

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Subject Headings

  • Hurston, Zora Neale -- Friends and associates.
  • Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan, 1896-1953 -- Friends and associates.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
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