Erskine Caldwell is one of the most widely read authors of the Twentieth Century, with eighty million books sold to readers in forty-three different languages. His novel "God's Little Acre" alone has sold over fourteen million copies. His books have been made into three movies, and the stage adaptation of "Tobacco Road" made American theatre history when it ran for seven-and-a-half years on Broadway. Caldwell is the author of 25 novels, 150 short stories and 12 nonfiction books.
His themes were centered around social injustice in terms of class, race, and gender - remarkably, the very same issues we still wrestle with today. His method varied from the fantastically grotesque to the perversely comic, to the grimly realistic. In the early 1930's, he became the most controversial - and one of the most censored - American writers of his time. When the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice tried to ban "God's Little Acre", Caldwell took the case to court. With help from the testimony of H.L. Mencken and Sherwood Anderson, he won his case - a landmark in First Amendment litigation.
Caldwell's portrayal of rural poverty in the South was viewed by many Southerners as a betrayal. Margaret Mitchell, for one, criticized both Faulkner and Caldwell for betraying the South for Yankee dollars, and pointed out that "Gone with the Wind" contained "not a single sadist or degenerate."
That being said, 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
As one of the first authors to be published in mass-market paperback editions, he is a key figure in the history of American publishing. Sales of his books in Signet and Gold Medal editions established NAL (the New American Library) as one of the dominant paperback houses in the world. By the late 1940's, Caldwell had sold more books than any writer in the nation's history. For many years, however, his popularity with readers worked against his standing within the literary establishment. In 1984, Caldwell was elected, along with Norman Mailer, to the fifty-chair body of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. (Caldwell took the chair of playwright Lillian Hellman.)
He died in Paradise Valley, Arizona on April 11, 1987.