Sherwood Anderson was born in 1876 in Camden, Ohio. His parents moved frequently during his childhood, and Anderson received a haphazard education, while also working odd jobs to help support his family. In 1898, Anderson joined the army and fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. At war's end in 1900, he returned to Ohio and finally completed his schooling after a year at Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio.
In 1904, Anderson married Cornelia Lane, and settled down into life as a paint manufacturer. But after having three children and achieving some modest success in business, he experienced a psychological crisis of sorts, and decided to leave his family and move to Chicago to pursue a writing career. There, in 1916, he divorced Cornelia and married Tennessee Mitchell. That same year, he published his first novel, entitled Windy McPherson's Son.
Anderson's marriage to Tennessee Mitchell, however, proved unsuccessful. He divorced her in 1924 and married Elizabeth Prall, only to divorce her in late 1928. In 1933, he married a Virginian woman named Eleanor Copenhavor, and embarked with her on a tour of the South, where he studied and wrote about labor conditions. He continued to travel frequently, and was en route to South America when he died of peritonitis in Colon, Panama, on March 8, 1941.
Winesburg, Ohio garnered Anderson a literary fame that his later works (among them Many Marriages in 1923 and Dark Laughter in 1925) failed to do. Published in 1919, Winesburg, Ohio was the best- received of Anderson's works, and is still regarded as a masterpiece of American writing. Like Theodore Dreiser, author of Sister Carrie, Anderson was a master of literary naturalism, which offers a gritty, harshly realistic, and often pessimistic assessment of human affairs. However, whereas Dreiser focused on cities and city life, Anderson focused, in Winesburg, Ohio, on a small town in the American heartland, a setting that an increasingly urban nation had begun to regard nostalgically as an American ideal. In his novel, Anderson pierces this idealistic veil, exposing the loneliness and alienation that permeate life in a small, American town.
Culturally significant, Winesburg, Ohio also held a crucial position as a stylistic touchpoint for American modernist writers. Because its prose style drew upon everyday speech and experimental form--it is part novel, part collection of short stories--Winesburg, Ohio would have a profound influence on American short story writing in the next twenty years. Authors such as William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck later credited Anderson's work with shaping their own development as writers.