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ership. If it is any indication of the state of southern studies at Vanderbilt today, the "twelve southerners" who published that earlier collection in 1930 could not but concede, however grudgingly, that the field is in excellent, ifideologically different hands. Erskine Caldwell TheJourney from Tobacco Road By Dan B. Miller Alfred A. Knopf, 1995 459 pp. Cloth, $30.00 The People's Writer Erskine Caldwell and the South By Wayne Mixon University Press ofVirginia, 1995 213 pp. Cloth, $27.50 Reviewed by Bryant Simon, assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Georgia. Last year, I assigned Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Roadto my upper-level twentieth-century U.S. history class. On the first day of the quarter, as the students scanned the syllabus, one ofthem asked, "Who is this Erskine Caldwell guy?" I answered with a question, "Have any of you heard of Erskine Caldwell?" Only one woman out ofthe thirty or so in the class—most of them from Caldwell 's native Georgia—raised her hand. She said she thought that he wrote "dirty, crude" books. I informed the class that Caldwell was one of the most popular writers in American history, and that in the 1960s he was dubbed "The World's Best-Selling Novelist." I told them that a stage version of Tobacco Road was the second longest running Broadway drama ofall time.Just as I was about to rattle offanother Caldwell fact, one ofthe students interrupted me and demanded, "Well, if he's so popular, why don't we know anything about him?" Considered for years by many to be too vulgar, too commercial, and too critical of the South, Caldwell was first dismissed and then forgotten. Even his most Reviews 83 probing novels, Tobacco Roadana God'sLittleAcre, were eventually ignored. By the time ofhis death in 1987, most ofhis 25 novels, dozen nonfiction books, and 150 short stories were out ofprint. Over the last several years, however, something of a Caldwell revival has started to take shape. The University ofGeorgia Press has brought many of his books back into print. Scholars, meanwhile, have begun to seriously reexamine Caldwell's life and work. Historians Dan Miller and Wayne Mixon are two of the central figures in this Caldwell renaissance, and their recendy published books have helped to resuscitate Caldwell as an important literary and historical figure. Remarkably, Miller's book, published in 1995, is only the second full-scale biography ofCaldwell—a man who sold more than 70 million books. Relying on a wide array ofsources, includinginterviews with Caldwell family members and the entire, voluminous Caldwell collection at Dartmouth College, Miller traces the Georgia-born writer's life from cradle to grave. He is particularly interested in Caldwell's earliest influences, most notably Caldwell's father, Ira. An ordained minister, the iconoclastic Ira Caldwell was committed to helping the poor regardless ofcolor or creed. His brand ofthe Social Gospel often put him at odds with his typically conservative, white supremacist neighbors. "As an adult," Miller writes, "Erskine would make his father's cause his own, and in his writing he sought to honor and vindicate him." Miller also documents Caldwell's circuitous path to becoming a writer with a cause. A poor student, Caldwell began writing as an undergraduate. Without a diploma, he left school to devote himself full time to his craft, but it was hard going. He received an endless stream of rejections from magazines and publishers , large and small. His personal life was troubled as well. As Miller reveals, behind the tough-guy pose that he usually struck, Caldwell really had a rather fragile psyche. He married young, and the relationship quickly turned abusive. Caldwell engaged in a series of extramarital affairs, neglected his children, and lashed out at his wife. Finally a story was published, followed by a collection of essays and a novel. As the American economy collapsed in the early 1930s, Caldwell briefly flirted with the left, but, as Miller points out, the young Georgian was never a joiner and never ideologically committed to Marxism; he was simply angry about the conditions of the poor and the callousness of the rich. Around this time, Caldwell wrote...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 83-86
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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