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Sherwood Anderson Return to the Timeline
Sherwood Anderson
A committee of writers appears at the White House to protest against the use of U.S. military troops in the eviction of the Bonus Army Marchers from Washington, on August 10, 1932. The men are, from left: novelist Sherwood Anderson, Elliott E. Cohen, from Mobile, Ala., secretary of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, Waldo Frank, New York novelist, William Jones, editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, and James Rorty, poet and critict.

Sherwood Anderson, (1876-1941), was an American short-story writer and novelist. Although none of his novels was wholly successful, several of his short stories have become classics. Anderson was a major influence on the generation of American writers who came after him. These writers included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. Anderson thus occupies a place in literary history that cannot be fully explained by the literary quality of his work.

Anderson was born on Sept. 13, 1876, in Camden, Ohio. He never finished high school because he had to work to support his family. By 1912, he was the successful manager of a paint factory in Elyria, Ohio, and the father of three children by the first of his four wives. In 1912, Anderson deserted his family and job. In early 1913, he moved to Chicago, where he devoted more time to his imaginative writing. He became a heroic model for younger writers because he broke with what they considered to be American materialism and convention to commit himself to art.

Anderson's most important book is WINESBURG, OHIO (1919), a collection of 22 stories. The stories explore the lives of inhabitants of Winesburg, a fictional version of Clyde, Ohio, the small farm town where Anderson lived for about 12 years of his early life. These tales made a significant break with the traditional American short story. 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.

In WINESBURG, OHIO, Anderson became one of the first American writers to use modern psychological insights, especially those of the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. Anderson's characters tend to make themselves into what the author called grotesques. Anderson believed that there were once hundreds of truths, all of them beautiful. But people tended to adopt only one truth and call it theirs. According to Anderson, the moment "one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood."

Anderson's most important book after WINESBURG, OHIO is the short-story collection THE TRIUMPH OF THE EGG (1921). His many novels include POOR WHITE (1920) and DARK LAUGHTER (1925). He also wrote several volumes of revealing autobiography. He died on March 8, 1941.

Daniel Mark Fogel, Ph.D., Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Louisiana State University.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on Sherwood Anderson and related subjects.

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The American Novel