Gifted but enigmatic Atlanta magazine writer Margaret Mitchell earned the Pulitzer Prize in Novels for her breathtaking work of historical fiction, “Gone with the Wind,” on this day in history, May 3, 1937.
“Mitchell received news of the prize by phone, along with multiple requests for interviews,” reports PBS American Masters.
“Hating publicity, she fled to a gospel concert at a small Black church in Atlanta with her husband and close associates. The press scoured the city but never found her.”
She dodged attention, and future authorship, the rest of her brief life.
“Gone with the Wind,” Mitchell’s 1,000-page Civil War saga, is one of the world’s most successful novels. Even today, it enjoys a global following/
The drama of love and total warfare in the American South inspired a motion picture epic of the same name that remains one of the most celebrated films in Hollywood history.
“I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back.” — Ashley Wilkes, “Gone with the Wind”
“I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears,” Ashley Wilkes, the debonair object of headstrong heroine Scarlett O’Hara’s affection, says in one of the book’s signature passages.
The statement likely reflected stories that Mitchell absorbed as a child in a city that was reduced to ashes in 1864.
“Born in Atlanta in 1900, Margaret Mitchell grew up surrounded by relatives who told endless tales of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” states her biography on the website of Georgia Women of Achievement.
“She knew those who were relics of a destroyed culture, and those who had put aside gentility for survival.”
Her grandfather, Russell Mitchell, fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. He was shot twice in the head at Antietam, according to a biography of the author by PBS American Masters.
He miraculously survived the wounds and produced a large family.
An earlier generation of Mitchells fought for independence from the British in the American Revolution.
Mitchell spent four years writing for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine in her early 20s before becoming bedridden by a car accident in 1926.
“I vaguely recall that I just sat down and began to write a book to occupy my time,” Mitchell has been quoted as saying.
“I vaguely recall that I just sat down and began to write a book to occupy my time.” — Margaret Mitchell
“And after I finished it and was able to walk again, I put the book away and forgot about it for years.”
The title, a metaphor for the destruction of Antebellum South culture, comes from a line in “Cynarae” by 19th-century English poet Ernest Dowson.
Mitchell’s fortune changed in the spring of 1935 when editor Harold Latham from New York City publishing house Macmillan arrived in Atlanta searching for new authors.
“I just couldn’t believe that a northern publisher would accept a novel about the War Between the States from the southern point of view,” she reportedly said.
The novel “Gone with the Wind” was released in 1936, an incredible 1,037 pages long — and sold for $3.
It took America, and then the world, by storm.
It quickly sold more than 1 million copies — topping 30 million in recent years — and was translated into 16 languages within just three years, according to Publisher’s Weekly.
“Mitchell became a celebrity … in the public spotlight through the production and premiere of the film based on her novel in 1939.”
“‘Gone With the Wind’ was a phenomenal success and received rave reviews,” writes PBS.
“Overnight, Mitchell became a celebrity and remained very much in the public spotlight through the production and premiere of the film based on her novel in 1939.”
Interest in the pending movie adaption of Mitchell’s bestseller soon consumed American culture.
“Fourteen hundred women auditioned to play the Georgia belle (O’Hara),” writes Smithsonian Magazine.
“But when it went to Vivien Leigh, a British actress with only a few screen credits to her name, readers gasped. Southerners in particular were less than thrilled.”
The movie proved a bigger sensation than the book.
“Gone with the Wind” won eight Oscars at the 1940 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and remains the top-grossing movie in world history, earning $4.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Guinness World Records.
Mitchell’s story was now a multimedia international sensation.
Yet “Gone with the Wind” is the only book she ever published.
“‘Gone with the Wind’ has captured the imagination and admiration of people around the world for nine decades.”
The author was trying to walk across Peachtree Street in Atlanta on Aug. 11, 1949, when she was struck by a taxi.
She died at Grady Hospital five days later.
Teams of volunteers answered phones at the hospital to handle queries from around the nation.
Her condition was monitored by crowds outside the hospital and by President Harry Truman himself at the White House.
Margaret Mitchell, the greatest one-hit wonder in the history of American literature, was 48 years old.
“If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” — Scarlett O’Hara
MItchell wrote a novella in her teenage years, “Lost Laysen,” that was published in 1996.
Critics have lambasted “Gone with the Wind” in recent decades, arguing it glosses over a culture that accepted slavery.
But the core of the story, conflict over love and O’Hara’s incredible determination to survive as the world she knew literally burned around her, speaks deeply to a common humanity.
“Gone with the Wind” has captured the imagination and admiration of people around the world for nine decades.
“As God is my witness, and God is my witness, the Yankees aren’t going to lick me,” Mitchell’s O’Hara says defiantly.
“I’m going to live through this, and when it’s over, I’ll never be hungry again … If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”