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.”


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 Gradually the local, independent saddlery was superseded by the harness factories, and craftsmen such as Irvin Anderson became redundant and impoverished.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...

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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...

(The entire section is 133 words.)


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.)