September - November 2007 • Marion, Virginia

             

BIOGRAPHY

Sherwood Anderson’s dream had been to be an artist, but instead he lived as a conventional middle-class Ohio businessman, husband, and father of three.  He increasingly spent his spare time writing.  In November of 1912 he walked away from his office and was found four days later disheveled and disoriented wandering around Cleveland. In later writings, Anderson often referred to this episode as a conscious break from his materialistic existence. After a period of recuperation, Anderson rid himself of his business, marriage, and parental responsibilities to seek a new life in Chicago.

In Chicago Anderson became acquainted with writers, journalists, and critics of the “Chicago Renaissanceâ€� of the 1910s, including Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Ben Hecht, Theodore Dreiser, and the aspiring writer Ernest Hemingway.   These new intellectual friends encouraged Anderson to write about his experiences in small Ohio towns. In 1914, he divorced his wife, Cornelia, and married artist Tennessee Mitchell.  During his time in Chicago he wrote Windy McPherson's Son, Marching Men, Mid American Chants, and his best-selling novel, Winesburg, Ohio. His influence affected many of the upcoming writers, such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, and Saroyan. He personally helped Hemingway and Faulkner publish their first books.

After his divorce from Tennessee Mitchell in 1924, Sherwood Anderson married Elizabeth Prall and moved to New Orleans.  He quickly became part of New Orleans's surprisingly vibrant literary and artistic scene, drinking with the likes of writers, William Faulkner, Lyle Saxon, Hamilton Basso, and artists William Spratling, Caroline Durieux and Ellsworth Woodward, and the circle around the little magazine, The Double Dealer. Visitors like John Dos Passos and Anita Loos dropped in now and then.  Faulkner lived with Spratling for a time, and together they wrote and published Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles in 1926. During his New Orleans years Anderson wrote Many Marriages (1923).  Later, in New York, Dark Laughter (1925) made him part of the Harlem literary circle.

In the summer of 1925, the Andersons vacationed in Virginia. He liked the Grayson County area so much that he bought farmland there and built a home which he named Ripshin.  Soon after, he purchased two newspapers in nearby Marion, Virginia, the Marion Democrat and the Smyth County News.  As publisher of the newspapers, he often wrote articles under the name of Buck Fever which were collected in the 1929 book, Hello Towns.  He and Elizabeth separated in late 1928 and 1933 he married Eleanor Copenhaver, a Marion native and national YWCA official. Under her influence, he traveled throughout the South, touring factories and studying labor conditions.

Late in 1940, with the unofficial approval of the U. S. State Department, Sherwood planned a lengthy trip to South America.  He wanted to learn first-hand the working people, and to write about them.  He arranged with magazines to publish his writing, financing his trip. On February 28, 1941, he and
Eleanor boarded ship in New York City.  At sea, he became sick.  When the ship docked at Cristobal, on March 4, he was taken to a hospital at Colon, where he died on March 8.  Eleanor had his body returned to Marion, where he was buried in Round Hill Cemetery.