Kim Townsend has written what will probably remain the definitive biography of Sherwood Anderson, the only American of his generation, Malcolm Cowley has said, “who left his mark on the style and vision of the generation that followed.” Indeed, Anderson’s importance as a writer is often noted only insofar as he was briefly a mentor to William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway at the beginning of their careers.
Although Anderson’s best known work is the unified collection of short stories entitled WINESBURG, OHIO, he was also the author of other short stories, novels, plays, and essays. Townsend’s insightful and sociohistorically wide-ranging biography makes quite clear how Anderson “saved his life both by and in writing,” as well as how he attempted to discover himself as an American man through his writings, and to define and delineate what such a man should be ideally. Thus, Townsend says, Anderson’s “writings continually direct our attention back to the story of his life,” and this biographer’s analysis of the writing and the life is astute and compassionate.
Anderson’s life was fraught with self-imposed endings and beginnings (he married four times and abandoned a business career to write), and this changeling’s life makes fascinating reading.