| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Sherwood Anderson was above all a story-teller, and
in all of his writings he has left his readers a rich record of his life. Born
in Camden, Ohio, he spent his first two decades in small towns of northern
Ohio, especially Clyde, which became the setting for Winesburg, Ohio (1919),
his best-known work. He dedicated Winesburg to his mother, “whose keen
observations on the life about her first awoke in me the hunger to see beneath
the surface of lives.”
hunger to see hidden significance and beauty beneath the surface of lonely,
often frustrated lives became Anderson’s main preoccupation as a writer,
whether the setting is “Winesburg,” or “Bidwell,” as in his best novel, Poor
White (1920), or described directly as Clyde in his three autobiographies, A
Story Teller’s Story (1924), Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926), and his
posthumous Memoirs (1942; critical edition, 1969). In depicting the inhabitants
of the small midwestern town at the turn of the century, Anderson depicts the
struggles of all of us, especially when we are on the threshold of adulthood.
his mother died in 1895, Anderson left Clyde, and after a stint in the Army
during the Spanish-American War, embarked on a career in advertising in Chicago
in 1900. In 1907 he left advertising to found a roof-paint business in Elyria,
Ohio, a business which prospered until Anderson neglected it to spend hours at
night writing. A dramatic moment, which he tells and retells in his
autobiographical work, came in November, 1912, when he suffered a kind of
mental collapse, walked out of his office, wandered about in a state of amnesia
for four days, and finally was hospitalized in Cleveland. After a period of
recuperation and the liquidation of his debt-ridden business, he returned to
Chicago in February, 1913. Whether or not, as Anderson alleged in numerous
writings, his repudiation of business was a conscious choice of the life of the
artist over the life of the businessman, the fact remains that, at the age of
thirty-six, he radically changed the course of his life.
Anderson returned to Chicago, he became acquainted with the writers,
journalists, and critics of the “Chicago Renaissance” of the 1910s, for
example, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, and Ben Hecht. He met the
established writer Theodore Dreiser and the aspiring writer Ernest Hemingway.
In New Orleans, between 1924 and 1925, he met the young William Faulkner. These
younger writers, along with Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jean Toomer,
and many others, became indebted to Anderson’s new method of storytelling and
new structuring of stories into a story cycle. In fact, Faulkner later said of
Anderson: “He was the father of my whole generation of writers.”
made his greatest contribution to American literature in the genre of the short
story. With the publication of Winesburg in 1919, the American reading public
was introduced to a volume of stories innovative in two important ways. First,
the individual stories break with the tradition of tightly plotted, linear
stories in order to tell and retell a significant moment until all its meaning
is revealed. Second, Winesburg is not a collection of isolated stories but is a
story cycle, a grouping of stories which, in Anderson’s own words, “belong
together.” In Winesburg, in addition to the fact that the individual stories
have their own unity and beauty, the cycle itself acquires an artistic
integrity because of the relationship of all of the stories to each other.
Examples of American story cycles which followed Winesburg are Hemingway’s In
Our Time, Toomer’s Cane, Caldwell’s Georgia Boy, and Faulkner’s The
Unvanquished and Go Down, Moses.
Wayne State University
In the Heath Anthology
Death in the Woods
The Triumph of the Egg
Horses and Men
A Story Teller's Story
Tar: A Midwest Childhood
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The Sherwood Anderson Review
A regularly published print and online journal.
Project Gutenberg's electronic text.
Books and Writers
A biography and literary introduction including a selected bibliography of secondary sources and a list of major works.
The Clyde, Ohio Web Page
City history and links related to Anderson.
Irving Howe, Sherwood Anderson, 1951
Howard Mumford Jones and Walter B. Rideout, eds., Letters of Sherwood Anderson, 1953
James Schevill, Sherwood Anderson: His Life and Work, 1951
Eugene P. Sheehy and Kenneth A. Lohf, Sherwood Anderson: A Bibliography, 1960
Welford Dunaway Taylor, Sherwood Anderson, 1977
Kim Townsend, Sherwood Anderson, 1987
Ray Lewis White, Sherwood Anderson: A Reference Guide, 1977