People Writers

Sherwood Anderson

sherwood anderson

Sherwood Anderson was an American story writer and novelist.  He was born on September 13, 1876 in Camden, Ohio and has six brothers and sisters.  Irwin McLain Anderson was his father.  He was a harness maker and Union soldier.  The matriarch was Emma Jane.  The Andersons left Camden before Sherwood turned one.  They landed in Caledonia and stayed for five years.

Irwin was overtaken by his alcoholism.  It led to financial difficulties and another move to find work.  The family settled in Clyde, Ohio in 1884.  Everyone worked together to scrape by.  Sherwood was a good student.  His grades declined after he started taking on various jobs to help the family.  He quit high school during his freshman year.  His free time was spent with friends and books.  He was a voracious reader and borrowed extensively from the school’s library.

Sherwood Anderson’s brother Karl left home for Chicago in 1893.  Two years later Irwin began to disappear for weeks at a time.  In the spring mama Anderson passed away from tuberculosis.  The loss spurred a move to Illinois.  Sherwood moved in with Karl as he studied at the Art institute of Chicago.  He worked at a cold-storage plant.  Karl left.  Their two younger brothers and sister moved to the windy city.  Sherwood moved in with them.  Money was tight.

sherwood anderson
Sherwood Anderson – Photo Credit: Alfred Stieglitz


He enrolled into night classes at the Lewis Institute and read poetry in his downtime.  The Spanish-American War ignited.  Sherwood moved back to Ohio and enlisted in the military.  He trained until 1899 before being deployed to Cuba.  The fighting ended four months before his unit’s arrival.  He returned home without seeing combat.  Anderson returned to school in September 1899.  He graduated from Wittenberg Academy in 1900.

He accepted a job at Crowell-Collier Publishing Company.  The normalcy led to his exit a year later.  Frank B. White Advertising Company was his employer until 1906.  His first published piece of writing was an advertisement for farming clothing in 1902.  He wrote over thirty articles and essays before his departure to Cleveland.   His new position was the president of a mail-order firm.  The money was stable.  His mind was not.  Anderson left after a nervous breakdown in 1907.

The failure was short lived.  His family moved to Elyria, Ohio soon after and he started his own firm selling a preservative paint at a five hundred percent markup.  The Anderson Manufacturing Co. flourished and allowed for product expansion.  The Anderson Paint Company was born and after a few mergers near the end of 1911, the enterprise was integrated into the American Merchants Company.  The success of his business life once again clashed with his personal life. 

windy mcphersons son
Windy McPherson’s Son – Photo Credit: Provenance Online Project

Nervous Breakdown

His mythical and subsequent nervous breakdown occurred on November 28, 1912.  It began in his office after opening the daily mail.  He became distracted and wrote a note to his wife.  He told his secretary that he felt his feet were wet and getting wetter and then left his office.  He soon vanished and reappeared four days later in a Cleveland drugstore.  The disoriented Sherwood was assisted by a pharmacist that helped him relearn his identity and check him into a nearby hospital.

The retelling of the incoherence switches between self-affliction and mania.  Anderson has described the episode as escaping from his materialistic existence in some of his later works.  His first novel was published in 1916.  It was titled Windy McPherson’s Son and part of a multi book deal with the British publisher John Lane.  The next was Marching Men (1917).  The novels are considered inferior to the work that followed.  Winesburg, Ohio (1919) was a collection of short stories and introduced the first American insight into the psychology of Sigmund Freud.

The diction was lucrative, but the author wanted to produce a more complex narrative.  Poor White was a hit and published in 1920.  Many Marriages (1923) followed and explored sexual freedom.  F. Scott Fitzgerald regarded the novel as the author’s finest.  Dark Laughter (1925) continued the sexual investigation and was another critical success.  The bestseller was satirized by Ernest Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring a year later.

marching men
Marching Men – Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Anderson moved to Virginia in the 1930’s.  He continued to write within all mediums and lived on a farm.  On March 8, 1941 the writer fell ill during a cruise to South America after several days of abdominal discomfort.  He left the ship and was committed to a hospital in Colón, Panama and died the same day.  The autopsy revealed that he perished after swallowing a toothpick that resulted in internal damage and peritonitis.  His body was returned to the United States where he was buried at Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, Virginia.  Sherwood Anderson’s tombstone reads “Life, Not Death, Is the Great Adventure”.

Sherwood Anderson Bibliography

Windy McPherson’s Son 1916
Marching Men 1917
Poor White 1920
Many Marriages 1923
Dark Laughter 1925
Tar: A Midwest Childhood 1926
Beyond Desire 1932
Kit Brandon: A Portrait 1936

“Dare to be strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything.”

– Sherwood Anderson
sherwood anderson grave
Sherwood Anderson’s tombstone – Photo Credit: goodiesfirst

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