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||Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941)|
Writer whose prose style, derived from everyday speech, influenced American short story writing between World Wars I and II. Anderson made his name as a leading naturalistic writer with his masterwork, Winesburg, Ohio (1919), a picture of life in a typical small Midwestern town, as seen through the eyes of its inhabitants. Anderson's episodic bildungsroman has been compared often to Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.
"The young man's mind was carried away by his growing passion for dreams. One looking at him would not have thought him particularly sharp. With the recollection of little things occupying his mind he closed his eyes and leaned back in the car seat. He stayed that way for a long time and when he aroused himself and again looked out of the car window the town of Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on which to paint his dreams of his manhood." (from Winesburg, Ohio)
Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, the son of Irwin
Emma Smith Anderson. His parents led a transient life, moving from one
place to another after work. His father had served in the Union
Army but eventually ended up keeping a small harness-repair shop and
then working as a house-and-barn painter, though calling himself a
"sign-writer." Anderson attended school only intermittently, while
helping to support the family by working as a newsboy, housepainter,
stock handler, and stable groom.
At the age of 17 Anderson moved to Chicago. There he attended business classes at night, and spent his days as a warehouse laborer. In 1895 he joined the National Guard. During the Spanish-American war Anderson fought in Cuba. "I prefer yellow fever in Cuba to living in cold storage in Chicago," he wrote to his brother Karl. After the war Anderson returned to Ohio, for a final year of schooling at Wittenberg College, Springfield.
For the next few years Anderson moved restlessly around Ohio. From 1904 his life calmed down for some time with marriage to Cornelia Lane, a college-educated woman of prosperous family, and with work as a paint manufacturer in Elyria. All his free time Anderson spent with writing. In November of 1912, he walked out of his office and left a note to Cornelia: "There is a bridge over a river with cross-ties before it. When I come to that I’ll be all right. I’ll write all day in the sun and the wind will blow through my hair." During the emotional collapse he wandered, dazed, four days around Cleveland, and went to Chicago too.
Later Anderson claimed, that his wife was
unsympathetic to his attempts at writing. However, most likely
Cornelia's attitude was encouraging, overall – she held advanced
beliefs, was interested in literature, attended concerts, and
contributed a paper on 'Social Conditions in Russia' for the
Fortnightly Club. Anderson took a job as a copy-writer at the
Taylor-Critchfield Advertising Company, visiting his family on
weekends. In Chicago he joined the so-called Chicago Group, which
included such writers as Theodore Dreiser and
After divorce, Anderson spent a summer at Camp Owlyout, a colony for avant-garde women, with Tennessee Mitchell, a sculptor and musician, who had ended her relationship with Edgar Lee Masters. Occasionally Anderson danced with Tennesse and the other women when they assembled on the dance ground wearing Grecian robes. They married in 1916 but lived in separate apartments in Chicago a good part of their married lives.
Anderson's two first novels were Windy McPherson's Son (1916) and Marching Men (1917), both containing the psychological themes of inner lives of Midwestern villages, the pursuit of success and disillusionment. His third novel, Winesburg, Ohio, was "half individual tales, half long novel form", as the author himself described it. It consisted of twenty-three thematically related sketches and stories. Written in a simple, realistic language illuminated by a muted lyricism, Anderson dramatized crucial episodes in the lives of his characters. "My own vocabulary was small," Anderson once said. "I had no Latin and no Greek, no French. When I wanted to arrive at anything like delicate shades of meaning in my writing I had to do it with my own very limited vocabulary." Many of the tales have moral lessons weaved into them. The narrative is united by the appearance of George Willard, a young reporter, who is in revolt against the narrowness of the small-town life and who acts as a counterpoint to the other people of the town.
Several publishers rejected Anderson's book. One of them handed him a copy of a novel by an Anglo-American author, saying "Read this and learn how to write." The individual tales of Winesburg, Ohio, and Anderson's other collections of short stories, The Triumph of the Egg (1920), Horses and Men (1932), dedicated to Theodore Dreiser, and Death in the Woods (1933), directed the American short story away from the neatly plotted tales of O. Henry and his imitators. Anderson's emphasis was on the development of his characters, their motivation, and psychological process. In his Memoirs (1942) he said that he had thought that the novel form, being brought in does not fit an American writer.
In 1921 Anderson received the first Dial Award for his contribution to American literature. He travelled widely in Europe. While in Paris he met Gertrude Stein, whose work he much admired. "She is an American woman of the old sort, one who cares for the handmade goodies and who scorns the factory-made foods, and in her own great kitchen she is making something with her materials, something sweet to the tongue and fragrant to the nostrils." Upon returning back to the United States, he settled in New Orleans, where he shared an apartment with William Faulkner. Anderson helped Faulkner to publish his first novel, Soldier's Pay (1926).
separating from Tennessee Mitchell, Anderson married in
Elizabeth Prall, who had worked as a bookstore manager in New York;
also his third marriage broke down. Noteworthy, Faulkner had worked for
her in the bookstore. Their friendship was revived when he lived
for some time in New Orleans where she resided after the marriage.
Dark Laughter (1925) became a bestseller. In the story the disillusioned protagonist travels down the Missisippi imagining the kind of book Mark Twain might now write. From New Orleans Anderson moved to New York for some time, and from there finally to Marion, Virginia, where he built a country house, and worked as a farmer and journalist. He travelled again in Europe and wrote to his son John, a young painter: "I've a notion that, in America, you will be less bothered with homosexuality inclined men. However the arts have always been a refuge for such men. They are, as I think you have guessed, the less vigorous men. There is some distinct challenge of life they do not want to meet, and can't meet." In 1927 he bought both of Marion's weekly newspapers, one Republican, one Democrat, and edited them for two years. Anderson published columns under the pen name Buck Fever. To earn extra income he continued his series of lectures throughout the country.
While still married, Anderson began secretly visit with Eleanor Copenhaver,
a social worker, facory towns in the Midwest and the South. When he separated from Elizabeth Prall in 1929, he gave
the editionship of the newspapers to his son Robert.
With his fourth wife, Eleanor Copenhaver, Anderson managed to maintain a stable family life. At that
time, his financial situation was not as bright as it had been in
former years, and he often depended on her economic assistance. Their
love letters were published in 1991. As a result of his disillusionment of materialism
and because his books did not sell well, he wrote in a letter to his
mistress and friend, Marietta D. Finley: "Lots of times I said to
myself – why don't I die". (Sherwood Anderson's Pan-American Vision: Letters in Pursuit of a Cross-Cultural Bond, edited and with commentary by Celia Catalina Esplugas, 2017, p. 14) Anderson's letters between 1916
and 1933 to her were collected in Letters to Bab
(1985). Marietta, or "Bab" as he called her, dutifully kept his letters
and typed them up with a carbon copy, but Anderson destroyed
Commissioned by Today magazine, Anderson wrote of Depression-era social conditions and published his pieces in Puzzled America (1935). With encouragement from Eleanor, Anderson began compile notes for his memoirs. Anderson's newspaper pieces were collected in Hello Towns (1929), Return to Winesburg (1967) and The Buck Fever Papers (1971).
Anderson was among the earliest American writers, who responded to Freud's theories, and his best works influenced almost every important American writer of the next generation. He also encouraged William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway in their writing aspirations, although they eventually turned against him. Hemingway parodied Anderson's style in The Torrents of Spring (1926). Stein declared that Anderson was "a much more origial writer" than Hemingway.
Anderson died of peritonitis on an unofficial good-will tour to South America, at Christobal, Canal Zone, on March 8, in 1941. He had swallowed in New York a three-inch toothpick in the olive of one of his martins, and boarded then the Grace Line's Santa Maria bound to Panama. Anderson fell seriously ill on the ship. At his autopsy it was found that the toothpick had projected through the lower part of the colon into the the abdominal cavity. Anderson was buried at Round Hill Cemetery in Marion.
Soon after his death, Anderson's reputation declined, but in the 1970s, scholars and critics found a new interest in his work. During his lifetime Anderson wrote two autobiographical works, A Story Teller's Story (1924) and semi-fictional Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926). His Memoirs and Letters (1953) were published posthumously, as the more definitive The Memoirs of Sherwood Andereson (1969). In A Story Teller's Story the author explained why he disregarded dates in his autobiographies: "I think it was Joseph Conrad who said that a writer only began to live after he began to write. It pleased me to think I was after all but ten years old. Plenty of time ahead for such a one. Time to look about, plenty of time to look about."
For further reading: Sherwood Anderson's Pan-American Vision: Letters in Pursuit of a Cross-Cultural Bond, edited and with commentary by Celia Catalina Esplugas (2017); Sacred Land: Sherwood Anderson, Midwestern Modernism, and the Sacramental Vision of Nature by Mark Buechsel (2014); Such a Rare Thing: the Art of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio by Clarence Lindsay (2009); Sherwood Anderson: A Writer in America, Volume 1 by Walter B. Rideout (2006); Sherwood Anderson: An American Career by John Earl Bassett (2005); Sherwood Anderson and the American Short Story by P.A. Abraham (1994); A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Sherwood Anderson by Judy Jo Small (1994); A Study of the Short Fiction by R.A. Papinchak (1992);Winesburg, Ohio: An Exploration by Ray Lewis White (1990); A Story Teller and a City by Kenny J. Williams (1988); Sherwood Anderson by K. Townsend (1987); Sherwood Anderson: Centennial Studies, ed. by H. Campbell and C. Modlin (1976); Sherwood Anderson: Dimensions of His Literary Art, ed. by D. Anderson (1976); Sherwood Anderson: Essays in Criticism, ed. by W. Rideout (1974); The Road to Winesburg by W. Sutton (1972); Sherwood Anderson by D. Anderson (1967); Sherwood Anderson by B. Weber (1964); Sherwood Anderson by R. Burbank (1964); Sherwood Anderson: A Bibliography by E. Sheehy and K. Lohf (1960); Sherwood Anderson by J. Schevill (1951); Sherwood Anderson by I. Howe (1951)