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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Sherwood Anderson

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.”

This 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.

When 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.

When 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.”

Anderson 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.

Martha Curry
Wayne State University

In the Heath Anthology
Hands (1919)
Death in the Woods (1933)

Other Works
Winesburg, Ohio (1919)
Poor White (1920)
The Triumph of the Egg (1921)
Horses and Men (1923)
A Story Teller's Story (1924)
Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926)

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The Sherwood Anderson Review
A regularly published print and online journal.

Winesburg, Ohio
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.

Secondary Sources

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