American Folkways series

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The American Folkways is a 28-volume series of books, initiated and principally edited by Erskine Caldwell, and published by Duell, Sloan and Pearce from 1941 to 1955.[1] Each book focused on a different region, or "folkway", of the United States, including documentary essays and folklore from that region.[2] The books were written by local experts, describing "their" region.[3] Many of the individual volumes have become regarded as classics in folklore, local history, and American writing, and a number of them have been issued in multiple editions or are still in print.

Cover of Blue Ridge Country

Caldwell initiated the series after returning to the United States from reporting on the German invasion of Russia.[4] He had conceived of the series while in Europe, imagining an Americana regional series in which regionalists would "describe and interpret the indigenous quality of life".[5] His proposal was rejected by editors Marshall Best and Harold Guinzburg at Viking, but accepted by Charles Duell and Samuel Sloan as a foundational series of their new press, and as an opportunity for their press to acquire Caldwell's future works.[6]

In 1939 he began traversing the country, soliciting authors for the series, and by the end of the year had elicited commitments from five writers.[7] Caldwell ultimately edited 25 volumes of the series (three additional volumes were published), and twenty separate regions were covered by the series.[8] The volumes were intended to focus on cultural regions, not political boundaries.[8] He rejected the term "folklore", choosing instead to use the term "folkways" to reflect "the study of contemporary life in terms of its social and economic implications."[9] Caldwell was a detailed and focused editor, urging writers to hew to his vision – documenting and commenting on particular cultural regions, not sanitizing their subject, but reflective of the author's distinctive voice and regionalist character.[9]

Works in the series[edit]


  1. ^ Firsts Magazine, v.8, n.5 (May 1998).
  2. ^ Sylvia J. Cook, "Modernism from the Bottom Up", pp.56- 76, in Reading Erskine Caldwell: New Essays ed. by Robert L. McDonald (2006).
  3. ^ William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America (University of Chicago Press, 1973), p.232.
  4. ^ James Korges, Erskine Caldwell (University of Minnesota Press, 1969), pp.8-9.
  5. ^ Caldwell, quoted in Harvey L. Klevar, Erskine Caldwell: A Biography, p.219.
  6. ^ Klevar, pp.219-220; Mixon, p.121.
  7. ^ Mixon, pp.121-122.
  8. ^ a b Mixon, p.122.
  9. ^ a b Mixon, pp.122-123.


  • "American Folkways Series", Firsts Magazine, v.8, n.5 (May 1998)
  • Harvey L. Klevar, Erskine Caldwell: A Biography (University of Tennessee Press, 1993)
  • Wayne Mixon, The People's Writer: Erskine Caldwell and the South (University of Virginia Press, 1995)
  • "American Folkways Series", American Regional Folklore: A Sourcebook and Resource Guide ed. by Terry Ann Mood, pp. 19–20.