Caldwell among authors honored in new Hall of Fame facility in Athens
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Coweta native Erskine Caldwell has high visibility in the revamped Georgia Writers Hall of Fame at the University of Georgia in Athens.
The Hall of Fame, once tucked in a corner of the main library at UGA, now has museum exhibit space in the new Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library on the campus in Athens. The new exhibit was a focus of the 2012 GWHF celebration on Thursday.
A timeline running around the main room of the exhibit area touts the successes of Caldwell and Miller in the early 1930s and the filming of Caldwell’s “God’s Little Acre” in the late 1950s.
In a side room, memorabilia relating to Caldwell, Mitchell and songwriter Johnny Mercer share a large, central display case.
In another room, a book by another Coweta famous son, Lewis Grizzard, rests next to a Eugenia Price novel in a display saluting “waiting list” writers who have been suggested for GWHF status but have not yet been named to receive the honor.
Caldwell was an inaugural member of the Hall of Fame when it began in 2000. Named with him were James Dickey, W.E.B. DuBois, Joel Chandler Harris, John O. Killens, Martin Luther King Jr., Sidney Lanier, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Carson McCullers, Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor and Lillian Smith.
Subsequent members named to the Hall of Fame are:
• 2001 – Byron Herbert Reece, Alice Walker.
• 2002 – Conrad Aiken, Harry Crews.
• 2003 – Elias Boudinot, Jean Toomer.
• 2005 – Pat Conroy, Henry W. Grady, Ralph McGill.
• 2006 – Jimmy Carter, Terry Kay, Frank Yerby.
• 2007 – Miller, Ferrol Sams, Celestine Sibley, Anne Rivers Siddons, John Stone.
• 2008 – Bailey White, Calder Willingham.
• 2009 – Raymond Andrews, Coleman Barks, David Bottoms, Robert Burch.
• 2010 – Philip Lee Williams, Judith Ortiz Cofer. Georgia Douglas Johnson, Walter White.
• 2011 – Natasha Trethewey, Melissa Fay Greene, Mercer, James Kilgo.
While Caldwell, whose birthplace is now a museum in the south Coweta town of Moreland, is the only Hall of Fame member to have resided in Coweta County, several other members of the Georgia literary pantheon have ties of one sort or another to the local area.
King preached at Mt. Vernon First Baptist Church when his brother was the pastor there.
Mitchell is said to have collected Civil War stories at reunions of soldiers at the Hollberg Hotel – now the Veranda – in Senoia. Mitchell’s first husband, Berrien Upshaw, was the son of a woman who grew up in Newnan. Mitchell, the author of “Gone With the Wind,” also had relatives who married descendants of early Coweta settler Drewry Banks.
Carter visited Coweta during his early political career and in his post-presidency slipped into Newnan to visit a relative who was a hospital patient.
Burch and Sams are from Fayette County and visited Coweta, and Sibley also came to Newnan – most notably covering the John Wallace trial for the Atlanta Constitution in 1948.
Kay and Tretheway have both spoken at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts, and Sams and Siddons are among the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame members who have signed books and chatted with fans at Scott’s Bookstore in Newnan.
Mercer is distantly related to the Herndon family from Haralson.
Dr. P. Toby Graham, director of the Hargrett Library, spoke briefly at the end of a writer’s salon on Thursday. He encouraged those attending to visit the display area and savor treasures “from the collection at the Hargrett Library and some the materials that have been loaned by some of the authors.”