Born in Washington D.C. on August 8, 1896, Rawlings grew up with a love for writing which her mother encouraged. Rawlings submitted her work to local newspapers for their children's section, and by age eleven, Rawlings had won her first writing contest. During the summers, she spent time in the country at the farms of relatives. This escape from the city helped Rawlings relax and enjoy peaceful surroundings. When her father died, Rawlings moved with her family to Wisconsin. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and graduated with a degree in English.
At the University she came into contact with Charles Rawlings, and in 1919 she married him. The couple wrote for newspapers in Kentucky and then in New York. Rawlings also had her own syndicated column. City life didn't appeal to Rawlings, and the couple had trouble with their marriage. They decided that they needed a change. With inheritance from her mother, Rawlings purchased a 72 acre orange grove in Cross Creek, Florida. Here Rawlings felt at home, but Charles did not.
Realizing they couldn't survive on the profit from the orange grove, Rawlings began penning short stories that Scribner's published. Her tales all centered on the people in Florida and the countryside. The same year that Rawlings published her first book called South Moon Under, she also finalized her divorce. Though her marriage had failed, her book achieved success for her during this difficult time and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. While managing the orange grove on her own, Rawlings also began working on an idea that became The Yearling.
Originally read by adults and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1938, The Yearling found its way into schools and into the hands of older children. With profits from her book, Rawlings bought a beach cottage south of St. Augustine and married Norton Sanford, a hotel owner. Each partner continued doing what he or she did best, and Rawlings continued writing. She followed next with an autobiographical account of life in Florida called Cross Creek and then penned an accompanying cookbook. However, Cross Creek incited a neighbor and apparent friend of Rawlings to sue for libel. This caused five years of stress and strain for Rawlings, though she had apologized for any problems or misunderstandings the neighbor perceived. In the end, Rawlings moved from Cross Creek and refused to ever write about it again.
Rawlings' books had brought her attention and recognition, and that only compounded when MGM made a movie of The Yearling. Yet life wasn't easy for Rawlings as she suffered from several illnesses, had two car accidents, and traveled between the cottage in Florida and a farmhouse she had bought in New York to explore the background for another book. Over all it took ten years for that novel to appear. She had published 33 short stories during her life, but a cerebral hemorrhage cut her time short. Rawlings passed away on December 14, 1953. This former teacher of creative writing at the University of Florida in Gainesville bequeathed most of her land to the University, and land at Cross Creek is now called Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. An independent-minded author and civil rights advocate, Rawlings also earned a Newbery Honor Award for her book The Secret River which was published posthumously.