A product of the Midwest, Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio in 1876, the third of seven children. His father was a harness maker, an occupaction that was slowly becoming obsolete. His mother, Emma Anderson, was a hard working woman dearly loved by her son. The family traveled from one town to the next as Irwin Anderson looked for work. Finally in 1884, the family settled in Clyde, Ohio, the town that would be the inspiration for Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio." The family was very poor and Irwin had the habit of disappearing for weeks at a time. Consequently, when young Sherwood grew older, he spent more time working than going to school. He took whatever job was available to ease the economic burden on his family. He never graduated from the local high shool, but did receive a high school eduation later. He was essentially self taught. He would grow to resent his father for leaving the family often, feeling great sympathy for his mother. When Anderson was 19, he beloved mother died of tuberculosis. Anderson left for Chicago with his brother . He thrived on the city life, but the family stresses were a burden to him. He decided to join the Ohio National Guard and participated in the Spanish -American war. He saw no combat, but enjoyed army life. After his return to the United States, he finished high school in Springfield, Ohio and went back to Chicago to work in an advertising firm.
In 1904, Anderson married Cornelia Lane and in 1906, the couple moved to Cleveland where Anderson accepted a job as the president of the United Factories Company. After the birth of his first son, Anderson decided he needed more money so he started his own company in 1908. It was a success. He had a knack for leading people and getting them to do what he wanted. He found he had a good understanding of character, a trait that would help him write his books. During this time, his love of writing and literature grew. He tried to write at home, but the pressures of family life and business began to take a toll on his mental and emotional health. Finally on a day in November, 1912, Anderson walked out of his office. He was missing for four days and was finally identified in Cleveland. He could not remember who he was or how he got there. This incident marked Anderson's rejection of a conventional life as a businessman, husband and father of three small children. While he would return to Chicago to work in advertising, he would devote his life to literature and writing. He and his wife agreed to a divorce. Anderson would marry three more times. His children would live with their mother. He would write, live in Chicago ( where he met and encouraged Hemingway ) and New Orleans ( where he would befriend and encourage Faulkner) , meet Gertrude Stein in Paris and continue writing short stories and novels. He and his fourth wife would travel in the South. He loved Virginia and built a home there. His wife inspired an interest in southern factory girls and their plight. He traveled extensively and it was in Panama where he died of peritonitis in 1941. He is buried near his Virginia home.
Anderson wrote several novels, but it is for "Winesburg, Ohio," that he will be remembered. The work is regarded as a classic American short story collection. The book is a series of stories about lonely people in a small Ohio town and their efforts to communicate their feelings to others. The stories are unified by the use of a common setting and a protagonist-George Willard, a young reporter. All the stories take place in Winesburg-a fictional town patterned after Clyde, Ohio. There are common themes--as noted by Tanya Jarvik, the author of a piece about Anderson in "The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature"- adventure, boredom, loneliness, sexual repression and alienation. Anderson wrote several novels, but he never achieved the excellence of 'Winesburg, Ohio." A generous man, he encouraged and offered sage advice to many writers, notably Thomas, Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.