Bio: Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, on September 13, 1876, to Irwin and Emma Smith Anderson. His father was an itinerant harness maker and sometime house painter more interested in swapping barroom tales of Civil War adventures than in providing for a wife and seven children. In 1883 the Andersons settled in Clyde, Ohio, a small town in the heartland of America that later served as a model for Winesburg. There young Sherwood, nicknamed 'Jobby' because he was always ready to work, held any number of odd jobs to help support the family. Although he received a spotty education and never finished high school, Anderson possessed an entrepreneurial spirit and always imagined a glorious future for himself. A year or two after his mother's death in 1895, he journeyed to Chicago and found employment in a warehouse but was soon called up for military service in Cuba at the end of the Spanish-American War. Upon his return, he attended Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio, for a year.
In the summer of 1900 Anderson took a job back in Chicago as an advertising copywriter. He satisfied his growing interest in creative writing by turning out essays, sketches, and stories in his spare time. Following his marriage in 1904 to Cornelia Lane (with whom he would have three children), Anderson became head of a mailorder firm in Cleveland and subsequently established his own business in Elyria, Ohio.
Partly as an escape from growing marital and financial problems, he began writing novels around 1910. 'I am one,' he said, 'who loves, like a drunkard his drink, the smell of ink, and the sight of a great pile of white paper that may be scrawled upon always gladdens me.'
Nevertheless, in November 1912 Anderson suffered a complete nervous breakdown and soon returned to Chicago to resume a career in advertising. Over the next years he became one of the rebellious writers (others included Carl Sandburg and Ben Hecht) and cultural bohemians taking part in the so-called 'Chicago Renaissance.' In 1916 he published some of the Winesburg tales in several literary magazines as well as his first novel, the autobiographical Windy McPherson's Son. That same year his marriage ended in divorce, and Anderson wed Tennessee Mitchell, an adventurous, emancipated sculptor. A second novel, Marching Men, followed in 1917, and a book of free-verse poems, Mid-American Chants, came out in 1918.
But it was the appearance of Winesburg, Ohio a year later that secured Anderson's reputation. 'Nothing quite like it has ever been done in America,' said H. L. Mencken of the book that broke all conventions as it laid bare the lives of inhabitants (or 'grotesques' as Anderson called them) of a small Midwestern town. Critic Malcolm Cowley assessed the author's achievement: 'Anderson made a great noise when he published Winesburg, Ohio in 1919. The older critics scolded him, the younger ones praised him, as a man of the changing hour, yet he managed in that early work and others to be relatively timeless. . . . He soon became a writer's writer, the only storyteller of his generation who left his mark on the style and vision of the generation that followed. Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, Steinbeck, Caldwell, Saroyan, Henry Miller . . . each of these owes an unmistakable debt to Anderson.' The author himself reflected: 'With the publication of Winesburg I felt I had really begun to write out of the repressed, muddled life about me.'
The 1920s proved, in part, a productive and rewarding period for Anderson. He soon turned out Poor White (1920), a novel that depicted a small Midwestern town changed by the industrial revolution.