The Legacy of Erskine Caldwell

A Church, a School & “Ninety Per Cent Are Lunatics” (editorials); & A Matter of Change (review of Lillian Smith’s Now Is the Time)

Ralph McGill (1898–1969) was arguably Georgia’s most influential journalist of the twentieth century. During forty years at the Atlanta Constitution as an editor, publisher, and daily columnist, he built a national following as a white Southern editor who questioned segregation and challenged the demagogues who exploited it. His journalistic courage earned McGill a reputation as “the conscience of the South.” He began working at the Atlanta Constitution in 1938 and in 1942 was named editor-in-chief. By the late 1940s, McGill’s columns appeared regularly in national magazines such as Saturday Review, Saturday Evening Post, New Republic, and Atlantic Monthly, and in 1957 McGill increased his national reach when a syndicate began circulating his column to hundreds of newspapers. He won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and the prize committee singled out his piece “A Church, a School” for special mention. Then, for McGill’s having “courageously sounded the voice of reason, moderation, and progress during a period of contemporary revolution,” President Lyndon Johnson honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. (Inducted in 2004)

Lillian Smith Answers Some Questions about Strange Fruit (interview) & Are We Still Buying a New World with Old Confederate Bills?

Lillian Smith (1897–1966), who lived for most of her life in the mountains of Clayton, Georgia, began her literary career writing for a journal—successively titled Pseudopodia (1936), the North Georgia Review (1937–1941), and South Today (1942–1945)—that she co-edited with her friend and companion Paula Snelling. In 1944 she gained nationwide fame and notoriety with the publication of her best-known book, Strange Fruit, whose frank language and sexual undercurrents led to the novel being banned in Boston for obscenity. Her other notable books include the novel Killers of the Dream (1949) and the nonfiction works The Journey (1954) and Now Is the Time (1955). A tireless campaigner for racial equality from as early as the 1930s, Smith was one of the first prominent white southerners to openly denounce segregation and to work actively against the entrenched world of Jim Crow. She died in Atlanta in 1966. (Inducted as a charter member in 2000)

Portrait in Georgia & Georgia Dusk

Jean Toomer (1894–1967) spent barely eight weeks of his life in Georgia, in the fall of 1921. But this short visit to the Sparta community inspired him to write Cane (1923), his acclaimed and influential novel of African American life in the early twentieth century. Despite the promise shown by this work, Toomer’s subsequent literary efforts frustrated and disappointed readers, critics, and fellow writers alike. Although he wrote throughout his life, Toomer’s literary visibility effectively ended in 1936 with the publication of his long poem “Blue Meridian.” Toomer died in 1967, two years before the paperback reissue of Cane sparked a renewed interest in the author and his modest body of work. (Inducted in 2002)

Autumnal (poem) & Letters to T. S. Eliot & Harriet Monroe

Conrad Aiken (1889–1973), born in Savannah, was the first Georgia native to win a Pulitzer Prize—in 1930, for his Selected Poems. A major international literary figure, Aiken published over thirty books of poems, nine novels, several volumes of criticism, books for children, a play, and a notable autobiography, Ushant (1952), over the course of his five-decade career. His Earth Triumphant and Other Tales in Verse (1914) is widely considered a milestone of literary Modernism. (Inducted in 2003)

To John Brown; The Passing of the Ex-Slave; & Cosmopolite

Georgia Douglas Johnson (1877–1966) was the best known and most widely published African American woman poet of her time, as well as a playwright and journalist. In 1893 she graduated from the Normal School of Atlanta University and, after teaching school in Atlanta and nearby Marietta, she attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. In 1916 Crisis featured Johnson’s first published poetry, and two book-length collections of her verse soon followed: The Heart of a Woman (1918) and Bronze (1922). Although her popularity peaked in the 1920s, over the next few decades Johnson also wrote songs, short stories, a biography of her late husband, and several other works which were salvaged from her house after her death, along with a “Catalogue of Writings” that documented the quantity and breadth of her unpublished work. (Inducted in 2010)

From Georgia: Invisible Empire State

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) was the first African American to be awarded a Harvard PhD. He spent nearly a quarter century on the faculty of Atlanta University as professor of history and sociology (1897–1910) and head of the sociology department (1934–1944). Du Bois’ writings and his intellectual guidance as teacher, researcher, and editor at Atlanta University contributed immensely to its reputation as a preeminent resource for the study of race in America. In 1903 he published his now-classic collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, named as one of the Modern Library’s one hundred most influential works of the twentieth century. Du Bois spent twenty-three years as editor of Crisis, a publication of the NAACP—an organization he helped found. During his second span at Atlanta University he became the first editor-in-chief of Phylon, the University’s scholarly review of race and culture, to which he was also an ardent and frequent contributor. (Inducted as a charter member in 2000)

An Editor Must Have a Purpose (editorial)

Joel Chandler Harris (1848–1908), born near Eatonton, held editorial positions at newspapers in Forsyth and Savannah, and ultimately with the Atlanta Constitution from 1876 to 1900. Over the course of his long career he produced six novels, a biography, a history of Georgia, a translation of French folktales, six volumes of children’s stories, and seven volumes of short stories for adults. Except for a few months in New Orleans, Harris’ entire life was spent in his native state, from which flowed his novels of plantation life and Reconstruction, as well as his history of the state and a biography of Constitution editor and Georgia Writers Hall of Fame honoree Henry W. Grady. In 1905 Harris was named a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters along with Mark Twain, Henry James, and Henry Adams. He died in 1908 in Atlanta. (Inducted as a charter member in 2000)

From The Marshes of Glynn (poem) & Letters to Mr. and Mrs. Gibson Peacock & Mr. Paul Hamilton Hayne

Sidney Lanier (1842–1881) was the first native Georgian poet to achieve national prominence. A Maconite like John Oliver Killens, Lanier graduated from Oglethorpe University, which was then located near Milledgeville, in 1860. He volunteered for service at the onset of the Civil War, serving in the Confederate signal corps and as a pilot aboard English blockade runners. In 1864 he was captured and held as a prisoner of war for four months in Maryland, during which time he contracted tuberculosis, the disease that would cause his death in 1881. Though known primarily as a poet, Lanier’s first major publication was Tiger-Lilies (1867), his only novel. Lippincott published his Poems in 1877; two other collections, edited by his wife Mary Day Lanier, came out posthumously from Scribner’s in 1884 and 1891. Sidney Lanier’s best-remembered poems are set among the landscapes of Georgia and evoke the rhythms of the natural world. These include “Corn,” “The Song of the Chattahoochee,” “Sunrise,” and the frequently anthologized “The Marshes of Glynn.” He also wrote three volumes of literary criticism and two other nonfiction books: Florida: Its Scenery, Climate and History (1875) and Retrospects and Prospects (1899). The latter includes the essay “Sketches of India,” which Lanier wrote despite the fact that he never set foot in that country. (Inducted as a charter member in 2000)

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