Novelist, Short Story Writer
Lifetime: 1876 - 1941 Passed: ≈ 81 years ago
Sherwood Anderson was an American novelist and short story writer, known for subjective and self-revealing works. Self-educated, he rose to become a successful copywriter and business owner in Cleveland and Elyria, Ohio. In 1912, Anderson had a nervous breakdown that led him to abandon his business and family to become a writer.
At the time, he moved to Chicago and was eventually married three additional times. His most enduring work is the short-story sequence Winesburg, Ohio, which launched his career. Throughout the 1920s, Anderson published several short story collections, novels, memoirs, books of essays, and a book of poetry. Though his books sold reasonably well, Dark Laughter (1925), a novel inspired by Anderson's time in New Orleans during the 1920s, was his only bestseller.
Sherwood Berton Anderson was born on September 13, 1876, at 142 S. Lafayette Street in Camden, Ohio, a farming town with a population of around 650 (according to the 1870 census).
Anderson moved to a boardinghouse in Chicago owned by a former mayor of Clyde. His brother Karl lived in the city and was studying at the Art Institute. Anderson moved in with him and quickly found a job at a cold-storage plant. In late 1897, Karl moved away, and Anderson relocated to a two-room flat with his sister and two younger brothers newly come from Clyde. Money was tight—Anderson earned "two dollars for a day of ten hours"— but with occasional support from Karl, they got by.
On Thursday, November 28, 1912, Anderson came to his office in a slightly nervous state. According to his secretary, he opened some mail, and in the course of dictating a business letter became distracted. After writing a note to his wife, he murmured something along the lines of "I feel as though my feet were wet, and they keep getting wetter." and left the office. Four days later, on Sunday December 1, a disoriented Anderson entered a drug store on East 152nd Street in Cleveland and asked the pharmacist to help figure out his identity. Unable to make out what the incoherent Anderson was saying, the pharmacist discovered a phone book on his person and called the number of Edwin Baxter, a member of the Elyria Chamber of Commerce. Baxter came, recognized Anderson, and promptly had him checked into the Huron Road Hospital in downtown Cleveland, where Anderson's wife, whom he would hardly recognize, went to meet him.
But even before returning home, Anderson began his lifelong practice of reinterpreting the story of his breakdown.
Anderson's first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, was published in 1916 as part of a three-book deal with John Lane. This book, along with his second novel, Marching Men (1917), are usually considered his "apprentice novels" because they came before Anderson found fame with Winesburg, Ohio (1919) and are generally considered inferior in quality to works that followed.
Anderson's most notable work is his collection of interrelated short stories, Winesburg, Ohio (1919). In his memoir, he wrote that "Hands", the opening story, was the first "real" story he ever wrote.
"Instead of emphasizing plot and action, Anderson used a simple, precise, unsentimental style to reveal the frustration, loneliness, and longing in the lives of his characters. These characters are stunted by the narrowness of Midwestern small-town life and by their own limitations."
Anderson died on March 8, 1941, at the age of 64, taken ill during a cruise to South America. He had been feeling abdominal discomfort for a few days, which was later diagnosed as peritonitis. Anderson and his wife disembarked from the cruise liner Santa Lucia and went to the hospital in Colón, Panama, where he died on March 8. An autopsy revealed that a swallowed toothpick had done internal damage resulting in peritonitis.
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