Sherwood Anderson Biography

Sherwood Anderson Biography

Sherwood Anderson, although he enjoyed considerable success both critically and financially, was already forty years old when his first work, Windy McPherson’s Son (1916), was published. Up until then, Anderson had made his mark in the business world, but after a nervous breakdown, he quit his job to pursue a literary career full-time. Winesburg, Ohio (1919) remains his best-known and most admired novel. A loose collection of overlapping anecdotes about small-town life in the nineteenth century, Winesburg is an unflinching consideration of individuals in pursuit of the elusive American Dream. Maybe trying to make up for lost time, Anderson also wrote four other novels as well as a number of short stories, plays, and editorials before he died in 1941 at the age of sixty-five.

Facts and Trivia

  • Anderson had a very spotty education as a child, as his parents were forced to move frequently to find work.
  • After moving to Chicago on his own as a young teen, Anderson made ends meet by working as a farm hand and in factories. Between 1898 and 1899, he served in the Spanish-American War.
  • Sherwood Anderson founded the company Anderson Manufacturing, whose claim to fame was a top-selling product called “Roof-Fix.”
  • Anderson was instrumental in getting both William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway published.
  • Anderson’s gravestone reads: “Life, not death, is the greatest adventure.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)
ph_0111201173-Anderson.jpg Sherwood Anderson. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, a small town near Dayton, on September 13, 1876; he was the third of seven children of Emma and Irvin Anderson. His mother was of Italian descent. His father was a sign painter who was far from being an economic success but who had been a cavalryman in the Union army during the Civil War, where his training as a harness maker was particularly valuable. Gradually the local, independent saddlery was superseded by the harness factories, and craftsmen such as Irvin Anderson became redundant and impoverished. Emma Anderson took in laundry to supplement the family income. The social and economic circumstances of his parents clearly influenced Sherwood’s later thinking and his choice of themes for his stories. In 1884, the Anderson family moved from Camden to Clyde, Ohio, near the Lake Erie city of Cleveland, which is frequently mentioned in Winesburg, Ohio (1919).

For a time after 1896, Anderson worked in a Chicago warehouse before enlisting for service in the Spanish-American War, from which he was discharged with the rank of corporal. Thereafter, he enrolled in Wittenburg Academy at Springfield, Ohio, and graduated in June, 1900, becoming an advertising salesman and copywriter in Chicago. In 1904, he married Cornelia Lane, the first of the four wives whom, as he said, he tried “blunderingly to love.” During those years he became a professional success, writing what he called “rather senseless advertisements,” but he was spiritually unsatisfied. Accordingly, he moved to Elyria, a small town on the periphery of Cleveland, and in 1906 founded the Anderson Manufacturing Company, which produced paint.

For a dozen years Anderson was rather successful economically, and he took satisfaction in his family; however, his success was not wholly fulfilling, and he engaged in extramarital affairs, overindulged in alcohol, and started writing a novel. One day he left his office, was found walking the streets of Cleveland, and was hospitalized for a mental breakdown. Upon his release he returned to Chicago to join the band of writers (including Ben Hecht, Floyd Dell, Theodore Dreiser, and Carl Sandburg) who were the leading spirits within the Chicago Renaissance.

Anderson showed the novel on which he had been working before his breakdown to his new acquaintances in Chicago. They recommended it for publication, and Windy McPherson’s Son (1916), largely autobiographical, offered many indications of the nature of Anderson’s subsequent writing, though it cannot be regarded as a major work of fiction. The character Windy McPherson is a thinly veiled portrait of Anderson’s father; his son, Sam, gropes with...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Of her husband, George Willard’s mother says, “Nothing he had ever done had turned out successfully.” This appears to be true, also, of the characters into whose lives Anderson’s readers are allowed to peer. These characters all once had high hopes and expectations in life; through some quiddity, some misunderstanding, some quirk, their life plans were disrupted or destroyed. By means of the flashback and the introduction of minor players in the lives of the grotesques, the reader can appreciate the crucial weaknesses and decisions that have determined the present. Anderson’s achievement is that he is not unrelievedly mechanical in his presentation: His simple prose style seems fully appropriate to the wide range of characters that he portrays, and Winesburg even today seems genuinely representative of America’s small towns.

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sherwood Anderson was the third of seven children of a father who was an itinerant harness maker, house painter and a mother of either German or Italian descent. His father was a Civil War veteran (a Southerner who fought with the Union), locally famed as a storyteller. His elder brother, Karl, became a prominent painter who later introduced Sherwood to Chicago’s Bohemia, which gained him access to the literary world. Declining fortunes caused the family to move repeatedly until they settled in Clyde, Ohio (the model for Winesburg), a village just south of Lake Erie. The young Anderson experienced a desultory schooling and worked at several jobs: as a newsboy, a housepainter, a stableboy, a farmhand, and a laborer in a bicycle factory.

After serving in Cuba during the Spanish-American War (he saw no combat), he acquired a further year of schooling at Wittenberg Academy in Springfield, Ohio, but remained undereducated throughout his life. Jobs as advertising copywriter gave him a first taste of writing, and he went on to a successful business career. In 1912, the central psychological event of his life occurred. He suffered a nervous breakdown, which led him to walk out of his paint factory in Elyria, Ohio. He moved to Chicago, where he began to meet writers such as Floyd Dell, Carl Sandburg, and Ben Hecht, a group collectively known as the Chicago Renaissance. A significant nonliterary contact was Dr. Trigant Burrow of Baltimore, who operated a Freudian...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Sherwood Anderson was born September 13, 1876, in Camden, Ohio, to Irwin and Emma Anderson. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Clyde, Ohio, where Anderson spent his most impressionable years. In later life, Anderson remembered Clyde as an ideal place for a boy to grow up; it became a symbol of the lost innocence of an earlier America. Many of his best stories have a fictionalized Clyde as their setting, and his memory of it shaped his vision of the American past and became a measure of the inadequacies of the industrialized, increasingly mechanized America of city apartments and bloodless sophistication.

Anderson’s family was poor. Irwin Anderson, a harness maker, was thrown out of work by industrialization and periods of economic instability. Thus he was forced to work at various odd jobs, such as house painter and paper hanger. Anderson’s mother took in washing, while Sherwood and his brother did odd jobs to help support the family. In his autobiographical accounts of growing up, A Story Teller’s Story, Tar, and Memoirs, Anderson expresses his humiliation at his impoverished childhood and his resentment toward his father for the inability to support his family. Anderson was particularly bitter about the hardship inflicted on his mother, to whom he was deeply attached. He held his father accountable for his mother’s early death, and in Windy McPherson’s Son one may see in the portrait of the father Anderson’s view of his own father as a braggart and a fool whose drunkenness and irresponsibility caused the death of his wife. In time, Anderson’s attitude toward his father softened; he came to see that his own gifts as a storyteller were derived from his father, who was a gifted yarn spinner.

Even more important in Anderson’s development as a writer was the sympathy awakened in him by his father’s failures. A braggart and a liar, Irwin Anderson nevertheless had romantic aspirations to shine in the eyes of the world; his pathetic attempts to amount to something made him grotesque by the standards of the world. An underlying tenderness for his father grew stronger as Sherwood Anderson grew older, enabling him to sympathize with those people in life who become the victims of the wrong kinds of dreams and aspirations. The portrayal of the narrator’s father in “The Egg” is one example of Anderson’s eventual compassion for such individuals.

Anderson’s youth, however, was marked by a rejection of his father and a worship of progress and business success. He eagerly embraced the current version of the American Dream as exemplified in the Horatio Alger stories: the...

(The entire section is 1089 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Sherwood Anderson began writing during the period from 1907 to 1912, when he was manager of a paint business in Elyria, Ohio. He had settled there in 1907 with his wife and growing family, apparently eager for success. The child of an impoverished harness maker whose skills had been made obsolete by advancing technology, Anderson had lived a life of hardship, meager education, and tireless moving about in search of employment. After a few years of writing advertising in Chicago and then marriage to Cornelia Lane, who was from a solid, middle-class family in Toledo, Anderson decided to go into business for himself. Soon, however, his attitude toward business changed, and he began to spend increasing amounts of time at night in an...

(The entire section is 404 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 11)

One usually reads the letters of a famous author for two basic reasons: to gain some insight into his thought and art and to get an impression of his personal life, especially in terms of friendships and personal acquaintances. The assumption is that letters, because they are not written for publication, communicate an intimacy and honesty perhaps lacking in the author’s other work. Although such indeed may not always be true, since established writers are often well aware that their letters will be collected and eventually published, this new collection of letters by Sherwood Anderson does indeed give at least the illusion of intimacy and straightforwardness.

Sherwood Anderson, however, may be a special case, since...

(The entire section is 1979 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, on September 13, 1876. His wanderings began in boyhood as his family moved from town to town in Ohio. In a succession of jobs, his father ran a harness shop, worked in harness shops, and painted signs, each occupation bringing in relatively less money for his large family. Sherwood, an active young boy, sold newspapers, picked up odd jobs, and wandered around the Ohio towns that were to become the settings for his later stories and novels. Although he read avidly, he had finished only one year of high school when he went to Chicago, in 1896, to work as a day laborer. After serving in the Spanish-American War and attending a prep school for a short time, he returned to Chicago and worked...

(The entire section is 1021 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Sherwood Anderson was born the third of seven children in Camden, Ohio, on September 13, 1876. His father was locally renowned as a...

(The entire section is 365 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Considered one of the most important literary voices to come out of the American Midwest, Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, on...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Novels for Students)

Sherwood Anderson was born in 1876 in Camden, Ohio. In 1884 his family moved to Clyde, the small Ohio town that Winesburg is patterned after....

(The entire section is 456 words.)

Sherwood Anderson Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
Sherwood Anderson Published by Gale Cengage

Anderson was born on September 13, 1876, in Camden, Ohio. In his early years, his large family moved frequently and struggled with poverty....

(The entire section is 355 words.)