Sherwood Anderson was born 138 years ago on this day in Camden, Ohio: September 13, 1876. I’d like to mark the occasion by noting that the first of three autobiographical works that Anderson composed—A Story Teller’s Story—came out ninety years ago. The two other autobiographical volumes are Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926), and the posthumously published Sherwood Anderson’s Memoirs in 1942.
A Story Teller’s Story is no simple autobiography. Kim Townsend, a recent biographer of Anderson’s, describes this book as “the story of the emergence and development of the equivocal and problematic state of being that was his as a writer. It was akin to the work he once projected as ‘the autobiography of the fanciful life of an individual.’ It was the story of how he came to have faith in his ability to tell stories, it was his defense of himself as a creator.”
A Story Teller’s Story could be considered perhaps a kind of spiritual autobiography, one that traces “the artist’s psychic development,” as Rex Burbank put in in his study of Sherwood Anderson for the Twayne’s U.S. Authors Series.
Anderson examines four phases of his life: his youth in small town America; his time in Chicago as a young man after leaving Clyde, Ohio, and his deepening awareness of life’s darker elements; his business achievements and subsequent rejection of America’s capitalistic success culture; and his later development as an artist seeking to establish psychic balance and wholeness. The book overall is a look at Anderson’s development as an American artist as his country entered the industrial age, but also examines the broader issue of how any artist struggles to survive and create in the United States.
Anderson’s autobiographical and journalistic works are often overlooked in favor of books such as Winesburg, Ohio, Poor White, and various short stories, but interested readers may find much of value in them. Anderson was always relentlessly trying to understand America and the lives of its people–and his own experience as well.
Sherwood Anderson. Rex Burbank. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1964.
Sherwood Anderson: A Biography. Kim Townsend. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1987.
The Last of the Provincials: The American Novel, 1915-1925. Maxwell Geismar. Hill and Wang, New York. 1959.
On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature. Harcourt Brace & Company, New York. 1942, 1995.