Erskine Caldwell

Erskine Preston Caldwell (December 17, 1903 – April 11, 1987) was an American novelist and short story writer.[1][2] His writings about poverty, racism and social problems in his native Southern United States, in novels such as Tobacco Road (1932) and God's Little Acre (1933) won him critical acclaim.

Erskine Caldwell
Caldwell in 1975
Caldwell in 1975
BornErskine Preston Caldwell
December 17, 1903
Moreland, Georgia, U.S.
DiedApril 11, 1987(1987-04-11) (aged 83)
Paradise Valley, Arizona, U.S.
Resting placeScenic Hills Memorial Park, Ashland, Oregon
OccupationNovelist, short story writer
Notable worksTobacco Road
God's Little Acre

Early yearsEdit

Caldwell was born on December 17, 1903, in the small town of White Oak, Coweta County, Georgia. He was the only child of Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church minister Ira Sylvester Caldwell and his wife Caroline Preston (née Bell) Caldwell, a schoolteacher. Rev. Caldwell's ministry required moving the family often, to places including Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. When he was 15 years old, his family settled in Wrens, Georgia.[3] His mother Caroline was from Virginia. Her ancestry included English nobility which held large land grants in eastern Virginia. Both her English ancestors and Scots-Irish ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Ira Caldwell's ancestors were Scots-Irish and had also been in America since before the revolution and had fought in it.[4]

Caldwell attended but did not graduate from Erskine College, a Presbyterian school in nearby South Carolina. His political sympathies were with the working class, and he used his experiences with farmers and common workers to write stories portraying their lives and struggles. Later in life he presented public seminars on the typical conditions of tenant-sharecroppers in the South.[3]

His first published works were The Bastard (1929) and Poor Fool (1930) but the works for which he is most famous are his novels Tobacco Road (1932) and God's Little Acre (1933). His first book, The Bastard, was banned and copies of it were seized by authorities. With the publication of God's Little Acre, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice instigated legal action against him. Caldwell was arrested at a book-signing there but was exonerated in court.[5]

Disillusionment with the government led Caldwell to compose a short story published in 1933, "Sylvia". In this story a woman journalist is executed by a firing squad after being tried in a secret court on charges of espionage.

Through the 1930s Caldwell and his first wife Helen managed a bookstore in Maine. Following their divorce Caldwell married photographer Margaret Bourke-White, collaborating with her on three photo-documentaries: You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), North of the Danube (1939), and Say, Is This The USA (1941).[6] During World War II, Caldwell obtained a visa from the USSR that allowed him to travel to Ukraine and work as a foreign correspondent, documenting the war effort there.[7]

Later yearsEdit

After he returned from World War II, Caldwell took up residence in Connecticut, then in Arizona with third wife, June, then in San Francisco. During the last twenty years of his life, his routine was to travel the world for six months of each year, taking with him notebooks in which to jot down his ideas. Many of these notebooks were not published, but can be examined in a museum dedicated to him in the town square of Moreland, Georgia, where the home in which he was born was relocated and dedicated to his memory.

Caldwell, a heavy smoker, died from complications of emphysema and lung cancer on April 11, 1987, in Paradise Valley, Arizona. He is buried in Scenic Hills Memorial Park, Ashland, Oregon. Although he never lived there, his stepson and fourth wife, Virginia Caldwell Hibbs,[8][9] did, and wished him to be buried near his family.[10] Virginia died in December 2017 aged 98.


Caldwell wrote 25 novels, 150 short stories, twelve nonfiction collections, two autobiographies, and two books for young readers.[11] He also edited the influential American Folkways series, a 28-volume series of books about different regions of the United States.[12]

  • The Bastard (1929)
  • Poor Fool (1930)
  • American Earth, short stories (1931), later released as A Swell Looking Girl
  • Tobacco Road (1932)
  • We Are the Living, short stories (1933)
  • God's Little Acre (1933)
  • Tenant Farmers, essay (1935)
  • Some American People, essay (1935)
  • Journeyman (1935)
  • Kneel to the Rising Sun, short stories (1935)
  • The Sacrilege of Alan Kent (1936), originally from American Earth
  • You Have Seen Their Faces (with Margaret Bourke-White, 1937)
  • Southways, short stories (1938)
  • North of the Danube (with Margaret Bourke-White, 1939)
  • Trouble in July (1940)
  • Say Is This the USA (with Margaret Bourke-White, 1941)
  • Moscow Under Fire, foreign correspondence (1942)
  • Russia at War, foreign correspondence (1942)
  • All-Out on the Road to Smolensk, foreign correspondence (1942)
  • All Night Long (1942) — subtitled A Novel of Guerrilla Warfare in Russia
  • Georgia Boy (1943), linked stories
  • Tragic Ground (1944)
  • A House in the Uplands (1946)
  • The Sure Hand of God (1947)
  • This Very Earth (1948)
  • Place Called Estherville (1949)
  • Episode in Palmetto (1950)
  • The Humorous Side of Erskine Caldwell, edited by Robert Cantwell (1951)
  • Call It Experience, autobiography (1951)
  • The Courting of Susie Brown, short stories (1952)
  • A Lamp for Nightfall (1952)
  • The Complete Stories of Erskine Caldwell (1953)
  • Love and Money (1954)
  • Gretta (1955)
  • Gulf Coast Stories, short stories (1956)
  • Certain Women, short stories (1957)
  • Claudelle Inglish (1958)
  • Molly Cottontail, children's book (1958)
  • When You Think of Me, short stories (1959)
  • Jenny by Nature (1961)
  • Men and Women, short stories (1961)
  • Close to Home (1962)
  • The Last Night of Summer (1963)
  • Around About America, travel writing (1964)
  • In Search of Bisco, travel writing (1965)
  • The Deer at Our House, children's book (1966)
  • Writing in America, essay (1967)
  • Miss Mama Aimee (1967)
  • Summertime Island (1968)
  • Deep South, travel writing (1968)
  • The Weather Shelter (1969)
  • The Earnshaw Neighborhood (1971)
  • Annette (1973)
  • Afternoons in Mid America, essays (1976)
  • With All My Might, autobiography (1987)
  • Erskine Caldwell: Selected Letters, 1929–1955, edited by Robert L. McDonald (1999)


  1. ^ Obituary The New York Times, April 13, 1987.
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, April 15, 1987.
  3. ^ a b "Erskine Caldwell". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  4. ^ The People's Writer: Erskine Caldwell and the South By Wayne Mixon pages 5–6
  5. ^ "Sumner Defeated in Fight on a Book: Magistrate Greenspan Finds Novel by Erskine Caldwell Is Not Obscene". The New York Times. May 24, 1933. p. 19.
  6. ^ Erskine Caldwell, Margaret Bourke-White, and the Popular Front: Photojournalism in Russia By Jay E. Caldwell pages xi and 268
  7. ^ Erskine Caldwell, Margaret Bourke-White, and the Popular Front: Photojournalism in Russia By Jay E. Caldwell pages 15-21
  8. ^ "He loved the South but painted its evils in words",, December 17, 2003.
  9. ^ Profile Archived January 9, 2015, at the Wayback Machine,; accessed June 28, 2015.
  10. ^ "Novelist Erskine Caldwell's Ashes Rest in Ashland, Ore". Jefferson Public Radio. Archived from the original on May 24, 2013. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  11. ^ "Storyteller: A Life of Erskine Caldwell". Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  12. ^ Firsts Magazine, v.8, n.5 (May 1988).

Erskine Caldwell has also written 'The first Autumn'


  • Francis, Leila H. (2010). Erskine Caldwell: A Bibliography of Dissertations and Theses. CreateSpace. ISBN 9781453684368.
  • Stevens, C.J. (2000). Storyteller: A Life of Erskine Caldwell. John Wade. ISBN 1-882425-11-1.
  • Caldwell, Jay E. (2016). Erskine Caldwell, Margaret Bourke-White, and the popular Front: Photojournalism in Russia. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 9780820350226.

External linksEdit