Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | February 20, 2011

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind

Authors John Wiley, Jr. and Ellen F. Brown signing Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

On Friday night people filled Page Bond Gallery. They clustered in groups for discussion and lined up to buy Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Not the fictional work, but the new history by locals Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, Jr. “Wait,” you say, “you’re writing about nonfiction?” Yes, I am. Yes, the blog is still about fiction, but this time I’m smudging the rules, because this nonfiction traces the story of how a novel grew from idea into an international bestseller with its own pop culture empire. See, it is all about fiction.

“Timed to coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary of Gone With the Wind‘s 1936 release, we present the first comprehensive history of how Mitchell’s novel became an international publishing blockbuster. This is not a biography of the author but rather the life story of her book, from its origins in Mitchell’s childhood to its status today as a controversial cultural phenomenon. We follow the novel on its journey from a small apartment in Atlanta to the Macmillan Company’s Fifth Avenue headquarters in New York, and then across the country and around the world. We tell how Mitchell’s book was developed, marketed, and groomed for success in a bygone era of typewriters and telegrams, as well as of the author’s love-hate relationship with her publisher and agents, each of whom held divergent views on how best to manage the book and its legacy. Along the way, Mitchell changed the course of international copyright law through her struggles to maintain control over the GWTW literary rights….And, because this is not a biography of the author, the story does not end at her death. The saga continues to the present day, exploring the tumultuous years since her passing during which Mitchell’s husband, then her brother, and finally a group of Atlanta lawyers protected and capitalized on one of the world’s most valuable literary properties.”

-From the introduction to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood.

Ellen and John tell a new version of events and give a fuller picture of the phenomenon than anyone before. During their research, they uncovered information previously unavailable to GWTW researchers, including private correspondence between Mitchell and Lois Cole, the editor who discovered the manuscript. “We do not claim to have rewritten the history of Gone With the Wind,” they write, “but we have refocused the lens.”

I am reading the book now, and this post will be short because I can’t wait to curl up with the book and a glass of wine.

At Friday’s event, Ellen spoke first, tearing as she thanked her family, her co-author, local booksellers, James River Writers, and her mentor Emyl Jenkins, a Richmond author to whom the book is dedicated: “In memory of Emyl Jenkins Sexton, who had Scarlett’s zest for life and Margaret Mitchell’s love for the written word.” In the project’s first days, Ellen called Emyl to ask if she was crazy for considering writing a book about GWTW. Ellen smiled through tears as she said Emyl yelled into the phone that Ellen must write the book.

The crowd waiting to purchase copies

Ellen also earned laughs with her stories of wardrobe malfunctions and long hours with co-author John. The day of the signing, her dress “split in half,” and it took an editor at Harper Collins to convince her not to sew it back together. (By the way, Ellen looked stunning in the back-up dress.) She shared about the long days of working on the book with John, days when he was at her house when her children left for school and when they came home. On one occasion when Ellen and John picked up her son from school, her son leaned toward her and said in a stage whisper, “Is he staying the night?”

Ellen, who is always giving back to Richmond’s writing community, graciously thanked James River Writers and announced a portion of the night’s sales would go to the local writing organization.

Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore, arranged the book sales and donation. In her welcoming remarks, she told the crowd they were fortunate to find copies of the book, which is selling out everywhere it is stocked. If you want your own copy–and I think you should want one–head over to Fountain, which might have some autographed copies remaining. I’ll have to race you there, since I forgot to pick up copies for my parents, in-laws, and friends.

Read more about Ellen and John’s book from Richmond’s own Book Lady, who had an honest-to-God blurb on the back of this handsome book. Also check out the review in Deep South Magazine and John Wiley, Jr. on Virginia This Morning.

Scarlett greets readers as they enter Page Bond Gallery

John Wiley, Jr. and Ellen F. Brown

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Responses

  1. Great post! Thanks so much for the blurb. The book really is wonderful, and I’m s glad to hear the signing went well!

    • Thank you, Erin. I loved your review, particularly the line, “…the authors reveal the whole saga – worthy of a fainting spell from Scarlett herself.”

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rebecca Schinsky and giamateau, Kristi Tuck Austin. Kristi Tuck Austin said: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind http://wp.me/pRw2b-mF […]


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