In his writings, Anderson refers to the stories in "Winesburg, Ohio" as "simple little tales of happenings, things observed and felt" (1). He says that in writing the book, "he searched himself by throwing himself into the imagined life of another" (2), and that the characters he depicted were "figures on the doorstep of his mind...waiting to be clothed" (2). The people and topics Anderson wrote about were taken from his own observation and experience, and as such, there is much that is true about them, taken from the author's own life. The work, however, by the author's own description, is one of fiction; Anderson did not set out to write the story of his life in "Winesburg, Ohio". The book is without doubt very personal, and similarities do exist between characters and events in the book and those in Anderson's own biography. The characters are not real, however, and although some of the events may have really happened, they are used in conjunction with people and situations created from the author's mind, to illustrate truths that he had discovered by watching and reflecting on the lives of those around him.
(1) Anderson, Sherwood. Sherwood Anderson: Selected Letters. ed. Charles E. Modlin. Knoxville: U of Tenn. Press, 1984.
(2) Phillips, Wm. L. How Sherwood Anderson Wrote "Winesburg, Ohio". American Literature 23 (Mar. 1951) 7-30.