Erskine Preston Caldwell

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Erskine Preston Caldwell

Birthdate: (84)
Death: 1987 (84)
Immediate Family:

Son of Ira Sylvester Caldwell and Carrie Preston Caldwell
Ex-husband of Margaret Bourke-White

Occupation: writer
Managed by: Michael Lawrence Rhodes
Last Updated:

About Erskine Preston Caldwell

Erskine Preston Caldwell (December 17, 1903 – April 11, 1987) was an American author. His writings about poverty, racism and social problems in his native South like the novels Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre won him critical acclaim, but they also made him controversial among fellow Southerners of the time who felt he was deprecating the people of the region.


Caldwell was born in a house in a wooded area outside Moreland, Georgia, the son of a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. During his early childhood he was relocated from state to state across the American South, as his father found jobs in various churches.

Later, he attended, but did not graduate from Erskine College. He was six feet tall, athletic, and played football. His political sympathies were with the working class, and he used his experiences with common workers to write books that extolled the simple life of those less fortunate than he was. Later in life, he gave seminars on low-income tenant-sharecroppers in the American South.

His first and second published works were 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). Maxim Lieber was his literary agent, 1932–1943 and 1947–1948.

When his first book was published, it was banned and copies were seized by authorities. Later, with the publication of God's Little Acre, authorities, at the instigation of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (apparently incensed at Caldwell's choice of title), arrested Caldwell and seized his copies when he went to New York for a book-signing event. A trial exonerated Caldwell, and he counter-sued for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

Through the 1930s, Caldwell and his wife Helen managed a bookstore in Maine. Caldwell was married to photographer Margaret Bourke-White from 1939 to 1942, and they collaborated on three photo-documentaries: You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), North of the Danube (1939), and Say, Is This The USA (1941).

During World War II, Caldwell obtained papers from the USSR that allowed him to travel to Ukraine and work as a foreign correspondent documenting the war effort there. Disillusionment with the intrigues of the Stalinist regime led him to compose a four-page short story, "Message for Genevieve," published on returning to the United States in 1944. In this story, a woman journalist is executed by a firing squad after being tried in a secret court on charges of espionage.

After he returned from World War II, Caldwell took up residence in San Francisco. His ex-wife kept the bookstore in Maine as a property settlement.

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: The house in which he was born was moved from its original site and preserved, and was made into a museum in the town square of Moreland, Ga.

Caldwell died from complications of emphysema and lung cancer on April 11, 1987, in Paradise Valley, Arizona. He is interred in Scenic Hills Memorial Park, Ashland, Oregon.


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Erskine Preston Caldwell's Timeline

Age 84