Erskine Caldwell

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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

Erskine Preston Caldwell (December 17, 1903 – April 11, 1987) was an American novelist and short story writer.[7][8] 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.

With cumulative sales of 10 million[9] and 14 million copies,[10] respectively, Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre rank as two of the best-selling American novels, all-time, with the former being adapted into a 1933 play that set a Broadway record for consecutive performances, since surpassed.

Early years[edit]

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.[11] 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.[12]

Caldwell's mother, a former teacher, tutored her son at home.[3] Caldwell was 14 when he first attended a school.[3]

Caldwell attended but did not graduate from Erskine College, a Presbyterian school in nearby South Carolina.[3]


He dropped out of Erskine College to sign aboard a boat supplying guns to Central America.[3] Caldwell entered the University of Virginia with a scholarship from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but was enrolled for only a year.[3] He then became a football player, bodyguard, and salesman of "bad" real estate.[3]

After two more enrollments at college, Caldwell went to work for the Atlanta Journal, leaving in 1925 after a year, then moving to Maine where he stayed for five years, producing a story that won a Yale Review award for fiction and two novels of the Georgia poor.[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 for The Bastard. Caldwell was arrested at a book-signing there but was exonerated in court.[13]

In 1941, Caldwell reported from the USSR for Life magazine, CBS radio and the newspaper PM.[14] He wrote movie scripts for about five years. Caldwell wrote articles from Mexico and Czechoslovakia for the North American Newspaper Alliance.[14]

Personal life[edit]

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).[15] 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.[16][14]

After he returned from World War II, Caldwell took up residence in Connecticut, then in Arizona with third wife, June Johnson (J.C. Martin). In 1957, Caldwell married Virginia Moffett Fletcher Caldwell Hibbs, who had drawn illustrations for a recent book of his,[14] moving to Twin Peaks in San Francisco,[17] later moving to Paradise Valley, Arizona, in 1977.[14] Of his residence in the San Francisco Bay Area, he once said: "I live outside San Francisco. That's not exactly the United States."[18] 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 Moffett Fletcher Caldwell Hibbs,[19][20] did, and wished him to be buried near his family.[21] Virginia died in December 2017 at age 98.

Caldwell's grandson, Adam Hunter Caldwell, is a fine arts instructor at Academy of Art University.[22]


Erskine Caldwell's 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.[11]

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.


Caldwell wrote 25 novels, 150 short stories, twelve nonfiction collections, two autobiographies, and two books for young readers.[23] He also edited the influential American Folkways series, a 28-volume series of books about different regions of the United States.[24]

  • 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
  • Southways, short stories (1938)
  • North of the Danube
  • Trouble in July (1940)
  • The First Autumn (1940)[25][26]
  • Say Is This the USA
  • 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,
  • 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)
  • In the Shadow of the Steeple,
    • second autobiography (1967)[27]
  • 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,
    • third autobiography (1987)[3]
  • Erskine Caldwell: Selected Letters, 1929–1955,
    • edited by Robert L. McDonald (1999)


In December 1984, Caldwell was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d McDowell, Edwin (April 13, 1987). "Erskine Caldwell, 83, Is Dead; Wrote Stark Novels Of South". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Trueheart, Charles (March 1, 1987). "Erskine Caldwell The Final Chapter". Washington Post. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Erskine Caldwell Dead at 83". AP NEWS. Paradise Valley, Arizona. April 12, 1987. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  4. ^ "Caldwell, Virginia Moffett, b. 1919". Dartmouth Library Archives & Manuscripts. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  5. ^ "Caldwell, Virginia Moffett Fletcher". Social Networks and Archival Context. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  6. ^ "Virginia Moffett Fletcher Caldwell Letter 1984 and 1985". A Guide to Materials on Women Women, Materials on Multiple numbers. Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  7. ^ Obituary The New York Times, April 13, 1987.
  8. ^ Obituary Variety, April 15, 1987.
  9. ^ Arnold, Edward T. "Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 13, 2023.
  10. ^ "Erskine Caldwell Biography". April 11, 1987. Archived from the original on August 18, 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2009.
  11. ^ a b "Erskine Caldwell". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  12. ^ The People's Writer: Erskine Caldwell and the South By Wayne Mixon pages 5–6
  13. ^ "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.
  14. ^ a b c d e Caldwell, Jay E. "Wanting to learn more about his dad leads Erskine Caldwell's son to write a book of his own". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  15. ^ Erskine Caldwell, Margaret Bourke-White, and the Popular Front: Photojournalism in Russia By Jay E. Caldwell pages xi and 268
  16. ^ Erskine Caldwell, Margaret Bourke-White, and the Popular Front: Photojournalism in Russia By Jay E. Caldwell pages 15-21
  17. ^ Collins, Carvel (July 1, 1958). "Erskine Caldwell at Work: A Conversation With Carvel Collins". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  18. ^ Bauman, Sam (October 23, 1963). "I write for myself,' says Erskine Caldwell". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  19. ^ "He loved the South but painted its evils in words",, December 17, 2003.
  20. ^ Profile Archived January 9, 2015, at the Wayback Machine,; accessed June 28, 2015.
  21. ^ "Novelist Erskine Caldwell's Ashes Rest in Ashland, Ore". Jefferson Public Radio. Archived from the original on May 24, 2013. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  22. ^ "Adam Caldwell". Hieronymus Objects. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  23. ^ "Biography". John Wade. Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  24. ^ Firsts Magazine, v.8, n.5 (May 1988).
  25. ^ MS-1046: Erskine Caldwell papers. ""Jackpot," Gallery Proofs with Corrections: "The First Autumn" - "The Growing Season", 1940". Dartmouth Library Archives & Manuscripts. Dartmouth College. Retrieved October 1, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ Caldwell, Erskine. "The stories of Erskine Caldwell". District of Columbia Public Library. Archived from the original on October 6, 2022. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  27. ^ "Caldwell, Erskine (Preston)". Retrieved October 2, 2022.


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