The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we delve into an interview conducted in August, 1971 of famed Southern writer, Erskine Caldwell. Perhaps no single work of fiction influenced the world’s view of the American South more than Caldwell’s breakout novel, Tobacco Road, published in 1932.
The interview, conducted by USM English Professor Jac Lyndon Tharpe, is a classic battle of the “Lits” versus the “Langs.” Throughout the almost six hour recording, Tharpe repeatedly attempts to draw Caldwell into a discussion of Literary Theory, while the exasperated author focuses on the process of writing—seemingly dismissive of all Tharpe holds dear.
1971 Growing up poor in the South, Caldwell had limited access to books and magazines. In this episode, he recalls how the wide variety of literary journals at the University of Virginia inspired him to write. As a sophomore in college, Caldwell only took courses related to his goal of becoming a writer. He remembers convincing an English professor to let him take a graduate-level writing workshop.
Even though Caldwell’s novels were inspired by his memories of growing up in the South, he insists he never knew how the story would end before it was finished. A prolific writer, Caldwell wrote 25 novels and 150 short stories. When asked which book was his favorite, his only reply: his next one. He also confesses that he is never satisfied with the final story.
PHOTO: By Giorgio Lotti (Mondadori Publishers) - http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/american-writer-and-journalist-erskine-caldwell-smoking-a-news-photo/186170230, Public Domain.