Publisher description for Erskine Caldwell : the journey from Tobacco Road : a biography / by Dan B. Miller.


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Counter A major new biography, Erskine Caldwell: The Journey from Tobacco Road presents the fascinating life and times of a prolific and profoundly influential -- yet nearly forgotten -- figure in American literature.

In the 1930S and '40s, Erskine Caldwell's impassioned work dealing with the Southern poor -- most notably, the novels Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre -- earned him wide critical acclaim. Although many Southerners reviled him for his brutal exposes of their region, literary scholars at the time ranked him alongside Fitzgerald, Wolfe, and Steinbeck. William Faulkner thought him one of America's five greatest novelists, and as late as 1960, Caldwell was under consideration for the Nobel Prize.

Although Caldwell worked for years in abject poverty, eventually his commercial success matched his lofty critical standing. The dramatic adaptation of Tobacco Road became the biggest hit in Broadway history, and paperback editions of Caldwell's novels -- frequently under attack for their explicit sexuality -- sold in record numbers around the globe. By the 1960s, in fact, his publicists declared him "The World's Best-Selling Novelist," and by 1970 he had written more than one hundred short stories and twenty-five novels. This should have secured Caldwell an enduring place in America's literary history, but today he is largely forgotten, one of the great disappearing acts in American letters.

Caldwell's personal life was no less complicated than his professional one, and Dan B. Miller's evocation of it is uncommonly subtle and provocative. Lonely and isolated as a boy; Caldwell treated his own children with alternating neglect and brutality. He was married four times (once to the photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White), had a number of extramarital affairs, drank heavily, and was prone to violent mood swings. Yet Caldwell could be extraordinarily generous, gentle, and funny, a man of startling inconsistencies and startling energy.

The first scholar to explore the entire (and voluminous) collection of Caldwell material at Dartmouth College Library, Dan B. Miller blends narrative grace, keen psychological insight, and dispassionate analysis to trace the tumultuous arc of a true American original and the vibrant literary culture in which he lived.

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