Sherwood Anderson and the "Poison Plot"

Ohio-born writer Sherwood Anderson hung out with Gertrude Stein in Paris and shared an apartment with William Faulkner in New Orleans.

Though he isn't as widely read or as well-known as his contemporaries, the collection Winesburg, Ohio and his later short stories are today considered masterpieces of American short fiction. Some academics claim this collection "revolutionized the short story genre" in the U.S.

Anderson rejected what he called the "poison plot" and focused instead on interiority: isolation, sexual repression, and lack of spiritual fulfillment. Writing about craft in A Story-Teller's Story he said:

"There was a notion that ran through all storytelling in America, that stories must be built about a plot and that absurd Anglo-Saxon notion that they must point a moral, uplift the people, make better citizens, etc., What was wanted I thought was form, not plot, an altogether more elusive and difficult thing to come at."

Burton Rascoe described Anderson's technique as “selective, indefinite, and provocative, instead of inclusive, precise, and explanatory.”

Winesburg contains portraits of various inhabitants of the town. Anderson's style is frank and unadorned, a journalistic aesthetic later adopted by many American writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Literary critics attribute his excellence in smaller narratives to direct authorial address; a circular, not linear, narrative structure; plot subordinated to characterization; simple style and vocabulary; and images drawn from elemental aspects of nature.

Anderson died tragically of peritonitis while on board a ship bound for Panama, after having accidentally swallowed a three-inch toothpick garnishing olives in his martini. The toothpick perforated his colon.