Margaret Culkin Banning
A Minnesota author stays close to her roots
She published her first book in 1920 and her last nearly sixty years later. She wrote 30 books and more than 400 essays and short stories, raised four children (for many years as a single mother), was a delegate to one Republican National Convention and an alternate to another, and was a sought-after speaker on women's rights and other social issues. She was a member of the British Information Service during World War II and worked in refugee and displaced persons camps in Austria and Germany after the war. So why, unlike her near-contemporaries F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis, is Margaret Culkin Banning not better known today?
"Minnesota has always been my home base as well as my birthplace," wrote Banning in 1960. "Native Minnesotans often refer to themselves as Minnesota Gophers, and I am one of that band." Banning moved away from Minnesota at intervals during her life--to attend Vassar College, from which she graduated in 1912; to live in England with her first husband; to attend to duties during World War II. But she always returned home, writing books steeped in the local color she had observed closely since childhood. "It would be easy to conclude that forgotten novelists are the real regionalists (and that regionalism is a polite term for failure or provincialism)," writes historian Karal Ann Marling. But that's hardly the case with Banning. She was a best-selling author whose work is ripe for rediscovery.
"The machinery of the Club begins to move. The first motor rolls up for the hour is almost seven thirty and the dinner is to be served at a quarter before eight. Comments fill the air, little cries of admiration, questions. The first powder is spilled on the glass covered dressing tables in the ladies' retiring room. There seeps through the smoking room the odor of the first cigarette. . . . Everyone is here, the ones who are confident of place in the social hierarchy as well as those who are not. It is strangely at once the field for the exercise of snobbery and a rather fair tryout for those who are socially on the make." From Country Club People, a novel by Margaret Culkin Banning
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