Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Ann McCutchan's "The Life She Wished to Live"

Ann McCutchan is the author of Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute, The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak About the Creative Process, Circular Breathing: Meditations from a Musical Life, River Music: An Atchafalaya Story, and Where's the Moon? A Memoir of the Space Coast and the Florida Dream.

As well, she is a busy lyricist and librettist, with eight commissioned works; the newest is The Dreamer, an opera based on an original story with composer Mark Alan Taggart, to be premiered online by the East Carolina University Opera Studio.

McCutchan applied the “Page 99 Test” to her sixth book, The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of "The Yearling," and reported the following:
On Page 99 of The Life She Wished to Live, Marjorie reports to her editor, Maxwell Perkins, that she is writing hard, with several short pieces in the works. Above all, she has befriended three families in rural Florida’s Big Scrub country and will live with one household for an extended period -- necessary research for her first novel, South Moon Under. People in the Big Scrub sustain themselves with some illegal activities, like moonshining. “The federal agents have been very active lately,” she tells Max. “So don’t be surprised if your correspondent has the misfortune of being run in! If it should happen, please don’t bail me out, because the jail-house would be a splendid place for quiet work.”

While Marjorie’s immersive research was key to her portrayal of rural north Florida and its inhabitants, page 99 alone doesn’t express the depth of her connection to the region, nor her ongoing struggles to write about it as well as she could. This is one page of a comprehensive biography, after all. Still, it offers a bit of Marjorie’s own voice in a letter, and letters (whether or not I quoted from them) were a significant component of this book. More than 4000, to or from her, exist.

As I worked on Marjorie’s story, I was struck anew by how much a biography of a deceased individual depends on the materials available. My previous biographical subject, the flutist Marcel Moyse, left no archive to speak of, and to describe his personality, his character, I depended heavily on interviews with people who had known him at various points throughout his 95 years. When I began Marjorie’s biography, only a handful of people who had known her – as children – were alive, and two left this world shortly after I spoke with them. I am grateful that Marjorie was without reliable telephone service for a very long time, and communicated with so many people by post. She herself said, “Anyone who has done research of any sort knows the treasure trove in coming across letters that picture the period and the personalities in a period far beyond the publications of the day.” The treasure trove she left was essential to bringing this high-spirited, passionate, complex woman to life.
Visit Ann McCutchan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue