Vienna Historical Society
Preserving the History of Vienna and Mount Vernon, Maine

Erskine Caldwell

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                                                                                          Erskine Caldwell
                                                                                             1903 - 1987

Controversial author Erskine Caldwell was born in Moreland, Georgia in 1903.  His father was a preacher in the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, an extremely conservative sect, which may have provided the basis for the author’s provocative writings.

As a student at the University of Virginia,  two events occurred which changed Caldwell’s life.  A professor encouraged him to become a writer, and he met his future wife, Helen Lannigan.  They were married in 1925 and shortly thereafter moved to the Lannigan summer home in Mount Vernon so Caldwell could concentrate on writing. 

Caldwell had little success at creative writing and his source of income in Maine was as a reviewer of books.  As such, he accumulated an enormous supply of books, and in 1928 the Caldwells moved to Cape Elizabeth and opened a bookstore in Portland.  After submitting dozens of manuscripts, his breakthrough came with the publication of “Midsummer Passion,” a short story he had written in Mount Vernon.

Subsequently, Caldwell landed a deal to publish a novella, The Bastard.  1929 Portland was not ready for such a provocative book, and the District Attorney had all the copies seized as obscene.  In 1930, Caldwell closed the bookstore and returned to Mount Vernon, where he continued to write. 

On an extended trip to Georgia, Caldwell fleshed out his most famous work, and upon returning to Mount Vernon, he completed reworking the final draft of Tobacco Road published in 1932.  That same year in Mount Vernon, Caldwell wrote God’s Little Acre.

During the next few years, other cities also banned Caldwell’s books, and his marriage was disintegrating.  In 1936, he left Helen and three children for noted photographer Margaret Bourke-White.  He would never again live in the state in which he produced his best work and for which he held so much contempt.


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