Sherwood Anderson Is Born

American writer Sherwood Anderson was born on September 13, 1876, in Camden, Ohio.

He is best known for his short stories—"brooding Midwest tales"—which reveal "their author's sympathetic insight into the thwarted lives of ordinary people."* Between World War I and World War II, Anderson helped to break down formulaic approaches to writing, influencing a subsequent generation of writers, most notably Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Anderson, who lived in New Orleans for a brief time, befriended Faulkner there in 1924 and encouraged him to write about his home county in Mississippi.

The third child of a harness-maker and house painter who had a fondness for storytelling, Anderson received an uneven education. As a young man, he was intent on establishing his financial independence. He married, had three children, and worked, with growing dissatisfaction, in the business world until 1912, when he suffered a nervous breakdown.

Between 1912 and 1922, Anderson worked as a copywriter at a Chicago advertising agency and wrote fiction in his spare time. In Chicago, he encountered writers Carl Sandburg, Floyd Dell, Theodore Dreiser, and others associated with the Chicago literary renaissance, a flowering of letters sustained by a group of young writers many of whom, like Anderson, had come of age in small midwestern towns in the late nineteenth century. The movement, which flourished from approximately 1912 to 1925, began as early as 1893, when several young midwestern writers were drawn together in Chicago for the opening of the 1893 World's Fair.

Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, the third of seven children of Erwin M. and Emma S. Anderson. After Erwin's business failed, the family was forced to move frequently, finally settling down at Clyde, Ohio, in 1884. Family difficulties led Erwin to begin drinking heavily; he died in 1895.

Partly as a result of these misfortunes, young Sherwood found various odd jobs to help his family, which earned him the nickname "Jobby." He left school at age 14.

Anderson moved to Chicago near his brother Karl's home and worked as a manual laborer until near the turn of the century, when he enlisted in the United States Army. He was called up but did not see action in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After the war, in 1900, he enrolled at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Eventually he secured a job as a copywriter in Chicago and became more successful.

In 1904, he married Cornelia Lane, the daughter of a wealthy Ohio family. He fathered three children while living in Cleveland, Ohio, and later Elyria, Ohio, where he managed a mail-order business and paint manufacturing firms.

In November 1912 he suffered a mental breakdown and disappeared for four days. Soon after, he left his position as president of the Anderson Manufacturing Co. in Elyria, Ohio, and left his wife and three small children[3] to pursue the writer's life of creativity. Anderson described the entire episode as "escaping from his materialistic existence," which garnered praise from many young writers, who used his "courage" as an example.

Anderson moved back to Chicago, working again for a publishing and advertising company. In 1916, he divorced Lane and married Tennessee Mitchell.

As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes…. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful…. For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.”

— From "The Book of the Grotesque," Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson