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He was born in Malverne, Ohio, the third of Erwin M. and Emma S. Anderson's seven children. After his father's business failed, they were forced to move frequently, finally settling down at Clyde, Ohio in 1884. Family difficulties led his mother to begin drinking heavily, and his father died in 1895. Partly as a result of these events, Anderson was eager to take on odd jobs to help his family, earning him the nickname "Jobby", leaving school at 14.
He moved to Chicago near his brother Karl's home. He worked as a manual laborer until near the turn of the century, when he enlisted in the United States Army and was called but did not see action in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After the war in 1900, he attended Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Eventually he secured a copywriter job in Chicago, where he was highly 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, where he managed a mail-order business and paint manufacturing firms. In November 1912, he went missing, but reappeared four days later after having a mental breakdown. He described this as "escaping from his materialistic existence", which garnered praise from many other writers, who used his "courage" as an example. He moved back to Chicago, working again for the publishing and advertising company.
In 1914, he divorced Cornelia Lane and married Tennessee Mitchell. That same year, his first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, was published. Three years later, his second major work, Marching Men, was published. However, he is probably most famous for his collection of works, which he began in 1915, known as Winesburg, Ohio. His themes are compared to those of T. S. Eliot and many other such modernists.
Although his short stories, especially those mentioned, were very successful, he felt the need to write novels. In 1920, he published Poor White, a rather successful novel. He wrote various novels before divorcing Mitchell in 1922 and marrying Elizabeth Prall, two years later.
In 1923, Anderson published Many Marriages, the themes of which he would carry over into much of his later writing.
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Beginning in 1924, Anderson lived in the historic Pontalba Apartments (540-B St. Peter Street) adjoining Jackson Square in New Orleans. There he and his wife entertained William Faulkner, Carl Sandburg, Edmund Wilson and other literary luminaries. Of Faulkner, in fact, he wrote his ambiguous and moving short story "A Meeting South," and, in 1925, wrote Dark Laughter, a novel rooted in his New Orleans experience. Although the book is now out of print (and was satirized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Torrents of Spring), it would be Anderson's only best-seller.
Anderson's third marriage also failed, and Anderson married Eleanor Copenhaver in the late 1920s. They traveled and often studied together. In the 1930s, he published Death in the Woods, Puzzled America (a book of essays), and Kit Brandon, which was published in 1936.
He dedicated his 1932 novel Beyond Desire to Copenhaver. Although he was much less influential in this final writing period, many of Anderson's more significant lines of prose were present in these works, which were generally considered sub-par compared to his others.
He died in Panama of peritonitis after swallowing a toothpick at a party, aged 64. Sherwood Anderson was buried at Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, Virginia. His epitaph reads, "Life Not Death is the Great Adventure".
Anderson's final home, known as Ripshin, still stands in Troutdale, Virginia, and may be toured by appointment.
Many Marriages is a 1923 Sherwood Anderson novel, largely plotless and considered by many to be the beginning of his decline as a writer.
Poor White is an American novel by Sherwood Anderson. Published in 1920, it is considered one of Anderson's best works. It is the story of an inventor, Hugh McVey, who rises from poverty on the bank of the Mississippi River. The novel shows the influence of industrialism on the rural heartland of America.
Winesburg, Ohio is a 1919 novel by the American author Sherwood Anderson. A critically acclaimed work of fiction by the American author Sherwood Anderson, the book, published in 1919, is a collection of related short stories, which could be loosely defined as a novel. The stories are centered on the protagonist George Willard and the fictional inhabitants of the town of Winesburg, Ohio. The work explores the theme of loneliness and frustration in small-town America. Anderson's writing often seems disjointed and tentative, a style that lends itself to the half-conscious thoughts and raw emotions of Winesburg's residents and their inability to express their deepest hopes and fears. The townspeople are grotesques, stunted morally, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, and they are inarticulate. They seem to gravitate toward George, telling him their strange, often sad, stories in the hope that, in writing the stories of their lives, he will be able to impart dignity and meaning to their personal struggles and experiences. The critical reception to Winesburg, Ohio upon its publication was positive, but it did not receive a wide readership. Among the literati, it was very highly regarded, but its sales were modest. It is now regarded as one of the finest American novels of the 20th century. The characterization foreshadowed the outlook of Sinclair Lewis toward American Midwest in his novel Main Street, published the following year, although it seems as though it is a parody of the citizens of Winesburg. In both works, the townspeople are presented as being simple-minded, but are miserable in Anderson's work while they are obliviously happy in all their narrow mindedness with the heroine, struggling to reform their mindset as the only miserable one in Main Street.
Ray Bradbury has credited Winesburg, Ohio as an inspiration for his book The Martian Chronicles. H. P. Lovecraft said that he wrote the short story "Arthur Jermyn" after he "had nearly fallen asleep over the tame backstairs gossip of Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio."