On this day in 1936, Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) published her first and only novel Gone with the Wind. The book became a blockbuster, mesmerizing readers with its story, set in the Old South, and its fascinating characters, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.
Mitchell worked as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal until 1926 when complications from an ankle injury prevented her from walking. To occupy herself, she began to read.
Mitchell read voraciously, so voraciously that her husband John Marsh became tired of carting books back and forth from Atlanta’s Carnegie Library. One day instead of a pile of books, he arrived with something else to keep her occupied, and announced, “. . . here is a typewriter. Here is some copy paper. Write your own book to amuse yourself” (1).
Although her experience as a writer was in journalism, she began to write fiction, turning to the stories she had heard from her family about the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Because she always struggled to write the openings of her newspaper stories, Mitchell got in the habit of writing the last part first. She followed this same pattern with Gone With the Wind, beginning with the last chapter, Chapter 63.
Mitchell wrote for nine years without any real ambition to publish, until she had a chance meeting with a publishing representative in 1935. Bashful about sharing her work, Mitchell was at first reluctant to show anyone her book. Fortunately, she reconsidered. Pulling together her manuscript of over one thousand pages, she placed it in a suitcase and delivered it to the publisher. A few days later Mitchell received a wire announcing that her book had been accepted for publication.
When the book went on sale on June 30, 1936, Mitchell hoped it would sell 5,000 copies. The book sold one million copies in its first six months, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Two years later the film version of the book premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.
Although Gone With the Wind became the most successful book ever published by an unknown author of a first novel, Mitchell never wrote another book. Besieged by admiring readers, the press, and fan mail, Mitchell found little time to write fiction. Mitchell died in 1949 after being struck by a speeding car near her home in Atlanta (2).
Margaret Mitchell is not the only author to write only one book. Other one hit wonders include J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), Emile Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Anna Sewell (Black Beauty), and Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar). The 2003 documentary The Stone Reader traces one reader’s quest for one-book author Dow Mossman, who published The Stones of Summer in 1976.
Today’s Challenge: One Book, One City
Many communities across the United States have participated in One Book, One City projects where a single book is chosen to be read and discussed by everyone in that community. The first such program began in Seattle in 1998 with Russell Banks’ 1991 novel The Sweet Hereafter (3). What one book would you argue would be worth reading by your entire hometown? What makes this one book something special? Write the pitch for the book that you think would be a good fit for your hometown, explaining why it is a book that would appeal to all ages and interests. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book. -Samuel Johnson