Sherwood Anderson -- 1876 - 1941
Today is the birthday of American writer Sherwood Anderson, who fits squarely in the tradition of American realists--Mark Twain before him, Ernest Hemingway after him, Ray Carver and the dirty realists a century later.
I read Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, when I was in college, I believe, and absolutely loved it. Its pageant of town eccentrics reminded me of the characters in my own hometown and the stories they created on its streets. Like Fred Manfred, who I also read at the time, Anderson inspired me to try to write a bit myself. At the heart of his work--a clear-eyed look at the the inspiring lives of ordinary folks (with a twist of eccentricity) who the world might well have considered not worthy of the stories he gave them--sits subjects I thought I knew.
Anderson put a pen in my hand, back then, and therefore stands tall in the pantheon of literary folks in my mind. Today, I'm afraid, my students wouldn't be impressed. Realism is a genre that's quite out of vogue. Writers who fail to allow the fantastic into the worlds they create get little attention. Yesterday, I spotted a collection of Alice Munro stories in my bookcase and felt an odd jolt of relief: maybe, if I stop teaching, I'll never bring her into a classroom again. That would be a blessing. Alice Munro is so incredibly good that she's downright inspiring, but not to college students. I can do without those kinds of moments in the classroom. I can walk away from the times I love the stuff and students don't. That's pain I can leave behind.
These are hard times for realists, hard times, I suppose, for Sherwood Anderson. Will things change? I'm guessing they will. Sooner or later, this world will become more interesting than Harry Potter's or some Star Wars future century. Sooner or later, escape won't be as much a seeming requirement. Sooner or later, staying here and really seeing will be in vogue again.
But for now Sherwood Anderson gets little more than a peek in anthologies, I imagine. But then, who knows--maybe somewhere out there some kid will stumble into Winesburg, look around at some grotesquely familiar faces, tell him or herself there's more to say, and start her fingers dancing on the keyboard?
For me, Sherwood Anderson was a giant.