Writing Gone With the Wind
The Margaret Mitchell House, where the author wrote Gone With the Wind. Photo courtesy of the Atlanta History Center
On July 4, 1925, Margaret Mitchell and her new husband John Marsh moved into Apartment No. 1 at 990 Peachtree Street in Atlanta. Though the couple referred to the small unit in the Crescent Apartments as "the Dump," it would become the incubator for one of American literature's greatest works: Gone With the Wind. Today, the apartment has been converted into the Margaret Mitchell House, offering a look into the author's studio, personal life, and continued influence. To find out more about this literary landmark, we spoke via e-mail with Joanna Arrieta, director of historic homes at the Atlanta History Center, which operates the museum, and Kate Whitman, the center's vice president of public programs.
NEA: How can touring the house illuminate Mitchell as an individual and as a writer?
JOANNA ARRIETA: Tours of the Margaret Mitchell House not only explore Margaret’s life while she was writing Gone With the Wind in the small Apartment #1 where she and her second husband lived for seven years, but guests also get a glimpse into her early life as well as her life after the novel through guided exploration of our Margaret Mitchell: A Passion for Character exhibition. Margaret’s apartment allows the guest to see inside the personal life of the famous author, whereas the exhibition allows for a greater understanding of her motivations and passions that influenced her famous work.
NEA: Why do you think the concept of literary pilgrimage is so alluring?
KATE WHITMAN: It provides inspiration to writers, looking to connect with authors they admire. Writing is a solitary activity done mostly at home in private, leaving little time to feel connected to a bigger community of writers with similar experiences. Being invited into these sacred spaces, where beloved books have been created, helps people gain insight into the writing process of their favorite authors.
NEA: What do you think people would be most surprised to learn about Margaret Mitchell?
ARRIETA: Most of our visitors do not have a really developed sense of who Margaret Mitchell was and what her life was like; they are more familiar with the actual novel itself. Many are surprised to learn that she was married (not once but twice!) and that her pen name is really her maiden name. Her stint as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine tends to raise some eyebrows as guests come to the realization that Margaret was already a well-known writer in the Atlanta area. I think the most surprising storyline that guests comment on is Margaret’s philanthropic ventures after her book became so successful, from creating a scholarship fund at one of Atlanta’s Historic Black Colleges to raising enough funds to build two World War II battle cruisers.
Margaret Mitchell's desk. Photo courtesy of the Atlanta History Center
NEA: How does the Margaret Mitchell House advance the author’s literary legacy?
WHITMAN: The Margaret Mitchell House Lecture Series, brings bestselling and award-winning authors to Atlanta and offers an intimate setting for a dialogue between writers and readers. We also offer eight weeks of summer writing camps that provide an opportunity for youth to discover the power and excitement of writing while honing their writing skills in a fun, interactive environment. Each writer receives individual attention while learning how to create meaningful prose through a variety of techniques, like stream-of-consciousness writing, journaling, free verse poetry, and more!
NEA: Do you think Mitchell’s apartment influenced GWTW in any way?
ARRIETA: I think that it definitely kept her grounded in the setting of Atlanta for her story. Margaret was essentially housebound for about three years with an ankle injury and only the act of writing to amuse herself, so I don’t know if there is a way that she couldn’t be influenced by the tiny apartment sitting on the corner of Peachtree and 10th Street---the heart of Midtown.
NEA: When Mitchell was writing her novel, do you know if she was already envisioning it as a film?
ARRIETA: Margaret was constantly surprised at the success of her novel. In fact, she expressed a lot of doubt that it would ever be published so it would surprise me if she would have thought of a film adaptation that soon. When she was approached by Selznick Studios she was quite concerned about how successful film would be, especially with how popular the book was. She knew that if the studio didn’t get it right then fans would absolutely hate the film.
NEA: Mitchell’s apartment is the only restored unit in the building. What does the rest of the house hold?
ARRIETA: The rest of the house is exhibition space, lecture space, a gift shop, program space, meeting rooms where we hold summer camps and writing workshops and event rental space.