Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson

Anderson, Sherwood, 1876-1941, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Camden, Ohio. After serving briefly in the Spanish-American War, he became a successful advertising man and later a manager of a paint factory in Elyria, Ohio. Dissatisfied with his life, however, Anderson abandoned both his job and his family and went to Chicago to become a writer. His first novel, Windy McPherson's Son (1916), concerning a boy's life in Iowa, was followed by Marching Men (1917), a chronicle about the plight of the working man in an industrial society. In his best-known work, Winesburg, Ohio (1919), a closely integrated collection of stories, he explores the loneliness and frustration of small-town lives. This work contains perhaps the most successful expression of the theme that dominates all Anderson's works—the conflict between organized industrial society and the subconscious instincts of the individual. In his later novels—Poor White (1920), Many Marriages (1923), and Dark Laughter (1925)—he continues to explore, but generally with less skill, the spiritual and emotional sterility of a success-oriented machine age. Anderson's unique talent, however, found its best expression in his short stories. Such collections as The Triumph of the Egg (1921), Horses and Men (1923), and Death in the Woods (1933) contain some of his most compassionate and penetrating writing. In 1927, Anderson moved to Marion, Va., where he bought and edited two newspapers, one Republican and one Democratic.

See his autobiographical Story Teller's Story (1924) and Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926); memoirs (1942); letters (ed. by H. M. Jones and W. B. Rideout, 1953); diaries (ed. by H. H. Campbell, 1987); biographies by I. Howe (1966) and K. Townsend (1987); studies by P. P. Appel, ed. (1970) and W. D. Taylor, ed. (1977).

Sherwood Anderson (September 13, 1876 – March 8, 1941) was an American writer, mainly of short stories, most notably the collection Winesburg, Ohio. That work's influence on American fiction was profound, and its literary voice can be heard in Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell and others.

Early life

Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, the third of seven children of Erwin M. and Emma S. Anderson. After Erwin's business failed, the family was forced to move frequently, finally settling down at Clyde, Ohio, in 1884. Family difficulties led Erwin to begin drinking heavily; he died in 1895.

Partly as a result of these misfortunes, young Sherwood found various odd jobs to help his family, which earned him the nickname "Jobby." He left school at age 14.

Anderson moved to Chicago near his brother Karl's home and worked as a manual laborer until near the turn of the century, when he enlisted in the United States Army. He was called up but did not see action in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After the war, in 1900, he enrolled at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Eventually he secured a job as a copywriter in Chicago and became more successful.

In 1904, he married Cornelia Lane, the daughter of a wealthy Ohio family. He fathered three children while living in Cleveland, Ohio, and later Elyria, Ohio, where he managed a mail-order business and paint manufacturing firms.

In November 1912 he suffered a mental breakdown and disappeared for four days. Soon after, he left his position as president of the Anderson Manufacturing Co. in Elyria, Ohio, and left his wife and three small children to pursue the writer's life of creativity. Anderson described the entire episode as "escaping from his materialistic existence," which garnered praise from many young writers, who used his "courage" as an example.

Anderson moved back to Chicago, working again for a publishing and advertising company. In 1916, he divorced Lane and married Tennessee Mitchell.


Anderson's first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, was published in 1916. Three years later, his second major work, Marching Men, was published. However, he is most famous for his collection of interrelated short stories, which he began writing in 1919, known as Winesburg, Ohio. He claimed that Hands, the opening story, was the first "real" story he ever wrote. His themes are comparable to those of T. S. Eliot and other modernist writers.

Although his short stories were very successful, Anderson felt the need to write novels. In 1920, he published Poor White, a rather successful novel. He wrote various novels before divorcing Mitchell in 1922 and marrying Elizabeth Prall, two years later.

In 1923, Anderson published Many Marriages, the themes of which he would carry over into much of his later writing. The novel had its detractors, but the reviews were, on the whole, positive. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, considered Many Marriages and "Circle Of Death" to be Anderson's finest novels.

Beginning in 1924, Anderson lived in the historic Pontalba Apartments (540-B St. Peter Street) adjoining Jackson Square in New Orleans. There, he and his wife entertained William Faulkner, Carl Sandburg, Edmund Wilson and other literary luminaries. Of Faulkner, in fact, he wrote his ambiguous and moving short story "A Meeting South," and, in 1925, wrote Dark Laughter, a novel rooted in his New Orleans experience. Although the book is now out of print (and was satirized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Torrents of Spring), it was Anderson's only best-seller.

Another remarriage

Anderson's third marriage also failed, and he married Eleanor Copenhaver in the late 1920s. They traveled and often studied together. In the 1930s, Anderson published Death in the Woods, Puzzled America (a book of essays), and Kit Brandon, which was published in 1936.

Anderson dedicated his 1932 novel, Beyond Desire, to Copenhaver. Although he was much less influential in this final writing period, many of his more significant lines of prose were present in these works, which were generally considered sub-par compared to his other works.


Anderson died in Panama at the age of 64. The cause of death was peritonitis after he accidentally swallowed a piece of a toothpick embedded in a martini olive at a party. He was buried at Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, Virginia. His epitaph reads, "Life, Not Death, is the Great Adventure."

Anderson's final home, known as Ripshin, still stands in Troutdale, Virginia, and may be toured by appointment.


  • Windy McPherson's Son, (1916, novel)
  • Marching Men, (1917, novel)
  • Winesburg, Ohio, (1919, novel)
  • Poor White, (1920, novel)
  • Triumph of the Egg, (1921, short stories)
  • Many Marriages, (1923, novel)
  • Horses and Men, (1923, short stories)
  • A Story-Teller's Story, (1924, semi-autobiographical novel)
  • Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs, (1924, memoirs)
  • An Exhibition of Paintings By Alfred H. Maurer, (1924, non-fiction)
  • Dark Laughter, (1925, novel)
  • A Meeting South, (1925, novel)
  • Modern Writer, (1925, non-fiction)
  • Tar: A Midwest Childhood, (1926, semi-autobiographical novel)
  • Sherwood Anderson's Notebook, (1926, memoirs)
  • Hello Towns, (1929, short stories)
  • Alice: The Lost Novel, (1929, novel)
  • Onto Being Published, (1930, non-fiction)
  • Beyond Desire, (1932, novel)
  • Death in the Woods, (1933, essays)
  • Puzzled America, (1935, essays)
  • Kit Brandon, (1936, novel)
  • Dreiser: A Biography, (1936, non-fiction)
  • Winesburg and Others, (1937, play)
  • Home Town, (1940, novel)
  • San Francisco at Christmas, (1940, memoirs)
  • Lives of Animals, (1966, novel)
  • Return to Winesburg, Ohio, (1967, essays)
  • The Memoirs of Sherwood Anderson, (1968, memoirs)
  • No Swank, (1970, novel)
  • Perhaps Women, (1970, novel)
  • The Buck Fever Papers, (1971, essays)
  • Ten Short Plays, (1972, plays)
  • Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein: Correspondence and Personal Essays, (1972, essays)
  • Nearer the Grass Roots, (1976, novel)
  • The Writer at His Craft, (1978, non-fiction)
  • Paul Rosenfeld: Voyager in the Arts, (1978, nonfiction)
  • The Teller's Tale, (1982, novel)
  • Selected Letters: 1916 – 1933, (1984, letters)
  • Writer's Diary: 1936 - 1941, (1987, memoir)
  • Early Writings of Sherwood Anderson, (1989, short stories)
  • Love Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, (1990, letters)
  • The Selected Short Stories of Sherwood Anderson, (1995, short stories)
  • Southern Odyssey: Selected Writings By Sherwood Anderson, (1998, short stories)


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