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Caldwell, Erskine

poverty poor fiction

(US, 1903–87)

Born in Georgia, Caldwell enjoyed a long and prolific literary career, producing travel writing, social criticism, and fiction. Although he achieved the peak of his fame in the 1950s, his most enduring fiction was written in the 1930s. The central character of Tobacco Road (1934) is Jeeter Lester, a sharecropper struggling in the face of poor soil and depressed markets. But as in much of Caldwell's work, notably the later Gulf Coast Stories (1959), the documentation of acute poverty is bizarrely mixed with lurid attention to sexual escapades. Caldwell's finest book is perhaps God's Little Acre (1933) where the poor farmer, Ty Ty Walden, abandons growing crops in favour of digging up his fields in search of gold. Rural poverty is also contrasted with life in the cotton-mill towns, through the eyes of Rosamond and her militant husband Will.

John Steinbeck, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote  BH

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