‘The New York Times’ on Sherwood Anderson’s ‘Winesburg, Ohio’

Sherwood Anderson’s
Revolutionary Small Town

How Winesburg, Ohio changed American literature.

By Bruce Falconer

In the autumn of 1915, while living in a bohemian boardinghouse on Chicago’s Near North Side, Sherwood Anderson began work on a collection of tales describing the tortured lives of the inhabitants of Winesburg, a fictional Ohio town, in the 1890s. Drawing on his own experience growing up in the agricultural hamlet of Clyde, Ohio, he breathed life into a band of neurotic castaways adrift on the flatlands of the Midwest, each of them in their own way struggling — and failing — to locate meaning, personal connection and love amid the town’s elm-shaded streets.

These “grotesques,” as Anderson called them, had allowed doubt and fear to overwhelm their better instincts. They were, the writer believed, casualties of a close-minded culture, condemned to live out a lonely, alienated existence. “Winesburg” quickly became a cultural byword, a metaphor for the yawning emptiness of rural life.

Today that book, “Winesburg, Ohio,” is a staple of high school English classes and an acknowledged classic — No. 24 on the Modern Library’s list of 100 best American novels. But the path that the book, published a century ago on May 8, 1919, took to literary renown was anything but direct. Read the full story at The New York Times.

Elizabeth Strout’s linked stories of a small town are an homage to Anderson’s groundbreaking work. Read more about her works in our Classic Pairings.

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