Who Was Margaret Mitchell?
Margaret Mitchell was an American novelist. After a broken ankle immobilized her in 1926, Mitchell started writing a novel that would become Gone With the Wind. Published in 1936, Gone With the Wind made Mitchell an instant celebrity and earned her the Pulitzer Prize. The film version, also lauded far and wide, came out just three years later. More than 30 million copies of Mitchell’s Civil War-era masterpiece have been sold worldwide, and it has been translated into 27 languages. Mitchell was struck by a car and died in 1949, leaving behind Gone With the Wind as her only full length novel.
Mitchell was born on November 8, 1900, in Atlanta, Georgia, into an Irish-Catholic family. At an early age, even before she could write, Mitchell loved to make up stories, and she would later write her own adventure books, crafting their covers out of cardboard. She wrote hundreds of books as a child, but her literary endeavors weren’t limited to novels and stories. At the private Woodberry School, Mitchell took her creativity in new directions, directing and acting in plays she wrote.
In 1918, Mitchell enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Four months later, tragedy would strike when Mitchell’s mother died of influenza. Mitchell finished out her freshman year at Smith and then returned to Atlanta to prepare for the upcoming debutante season, during which she met Berrien Kinnard Upshaw. The couple was married in 1922, but it ended abruptly four months later when Upshaw left for the Midwest and never returned.
'Gone With the Wind'
The same year she was married, Mitchell landed a job with the Atlanta Journal Sunday magazine, where she ended up writing nearly 130 articles. Mitchell would get married a second time during this period, wedding John Robert Marsh in 1925. As seemed to be the case in Mitchell’s life, though, yet another good thing was to come to an end too quickly, as her journalist career ended in 1926 due to complications from a broken ankle.
With her broken ankle keeping Mitchell off her feet, in 1926 she began writing Gone With the Wind. Perched at an old sewing table, and writing the last chapter first and the other chapters randomly, she finished most of the book by 1929. A novel about the Civil War and Reconstruction, Gone With the Wind is told from a Southern point of view, informed by Mitchell’s family and steeped in the history of the South and the tragedy of the war.
In July 1935, New York publisher Macmillan offered her a $500 advance and 10 percent royalty payments. Mitchell set to finalizing the manuscript, changing characters' names (Scarlett was Pansy in earlier drafts), cutting and rearranging chapters and finally naming the book Gone With the Wind, a phrase from “Cynara!, a favorite Ernest Dowson poem. Gone With the Wind was published in 1936 to huge success and took home the 1937 Pulitzer. Mitchell became an overnight celebrity, and the landmark film based on her novel came out just three years later and went on to become a classic, winning eight Oscars and two special Oscars.
Later Years and Death
During World War II, Mitchell had no time to write, as she worked for the American Red Cross. On August 11, 1949, she was struck by a car while crossing a street and died five days later. Mitchell was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement in 1994 and into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2000. Gone With the Wind was her only full length novel. She wrote the novella Lost Laysen in 1916 but it was not published until 1996.
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