Sherwood Anderson

By: Brian Berger
September 13, 2011

He was, observed Henry Miller of SHERWOOD ANDERSON (1876-1941), “The one American writer of our time who has walked the streets of our American cities as a genuine poet.” Indeed, following the Ohio businessman-turned-artist first two novels Windy McPherson’s Son (1916) and Marching Men (1917; “Defective but extremely interesting” opined H.L. Mencken), came Mid-American Chants (1918), a little known volume of aggressive, Whitman-derived verse. (In 1964, Jonathan Williams alloyed these words with the photography of Art Sinsabaugh to create one of American bookmaking’s most boggling productions: 1550 copies of a 27 1/4″ x 7 1/4″ spiral bound folio, see below.) Of the justly ubiquitous Winesburg, Ohio (1919), little needs be said except to note its brilliance yet obliterates decades of dreary teaching. For many ill-read critics, Anderson’s greatness ends there — the rest is apologia, including a mooted biography with dear friend Gertude Stein on their mutually beloved Ulysses S. Grant. Alas! If later Anderson visibly struggled to find new forms, the effort was nearly always rewarded. Edward Dahlberg, writing to Anderson in December 1939: “I have reread Poor White [1920]; it is a lovely, winged book, and dare say I don’t know of any writer living upon these wasted plains of Sodom whose mood, cadence, pollened, fruity prose as is close to me as yours.” Charles Bukowski, near the end of his own life: “Sherwood Anderson knew something. He had the instinct.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Roald Dahl.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut Generation (1874-83).


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What do you think?

  1. Brian, I’ve been thinking about Midwesterners lately. Is there a good survey of early 20th Century Midwestern fiction? There was obviously something in the water, don’t you think?

  2. Your cousin Bonnie Jo Campbell ranks high on any list of Midwestern fiction — up there with Anderson, Dreiser, Morrison, Wright, Sinclair…

  3. Mimi– I’m not aware of a reliable survey like that though trawling through reference works we could probably make our own. I’ll note too that Sherwood Anderson is grossly underrated– note he lacks a Library of America volume, for one– and that even flawed, much of his work is worthy, especially “Poor White” and “Many Marriages” but also the correspondence with Gertrude and “Southern Odyssey,” a selection of his writing from and about that diverse region–


    The midwest book I push on all is actually one of the greatest of all American autobiographies, Edward Dahlberg’s “Because I Was Flesh” (1959).

    Also, following Josh, I’d add: much Stanley Elkin; William Gass, “Omensetters Luck”; the poetry of Kenneth Irby; and ask which MORRIS Wright does he mean? I’ve been flummoxed by the bulk of it all, though I skimmed the few volumes Black Sparrow reissued in the 1990s.

    Wright’s photography, btw, is superb.

    I’m largely ignorant of short stories & give Kate Chopin to New Orleans, though St. Louis has a claim too.

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