Famed author Sherwood Anderson discovered a warmth and
vitality in the human condition during his stint as editor of the two weekly
newspapers published in Smyth County, Virginia.
November 3, 1927, a curious, three-paragraph story appeared in the Smyth
County News, a weekly newspaper published in Marion, Virginia.
Sandwiched between an account of the Marion High School football team's 57-6
victory over Shawsville, and a clothing store advertisement, the story was
headlined, "Fooled Again." It read: "Your new editor came into town Monday.
Children prancing in the streets at night, dancing, song, laughter, cheers.
Girls and boys in fancy costumes.
"Fool that I am. I thought it was because all Marion was so glad the new
editor had arrived.
"It was only Hollowe'en."
The new editor was Sherwood Anderson. Anderson, one of the most important
American writers of the 20th century, was already world-famous when he
bought the Smyth County News and the Marion Democrat, its
sister paper, in 1927. In 1919, he had published Winesburg, Ohio, a
collection of short stories that has become one of the most influential
works of American literature. By 1927, Winesburg and his other works
had already sold tens of thousands of copies and been translated into a
number of foreign languages.
What caused one of the best-known writers of his day to take up the life
of a country newspaper editor? In a column that he wrote to introduce
himself to his new readers, Anderson gave a simple explanation. He said that
he had moved to Southwest Virginia in 1925 because he "had grown tired of
city life and wanted the quiet intimacy of life in a smaller place..." He
added that he bought the two Marion papers because he found that country
life did not keep him "busy enough to be happy."
In letters to his friends, Anderson elaborated on that explanation.
Simply put, he was tired of the life of a professional writer, which had
left him with too much time for a wearying kind of introspection, and
burdened him with the constant pressure to produce more fiction.
In one letter he wrote: "I am taking this step (to buy the two
newspapers) for two reasons: first, to free myself from the immediate
necessity of living by my pen, and then to get back into closer association
with all kinds of people in their everyday lives."
His decision to become the editor of two small country weekly newspapers
began a paradoxical period in Anderson's life. Although he was from a small
town himself, and his best writing was about small-town people, Anderson had
become a very worldly and sophisticated man, who counted among his friends
the leading artists and writers of the day.
But for the next two years, Anderson played the role of country newspaper
editor to the fullest, writing about Kiwanis Club meetings, county fairs,
moonshiners, barroom brawls and school plays.
When Anderson took over the two papers, he told his readers that the last
thing that he wanted to do was impose his views on them. "I shall try to be
as modest and retiring as my own nature will let me be...However in taking
over the general editorship of the columns of a paper like this I cannot
quite keep myself altogether out of it."
Anderson did not keep himself out of the news columns at all. He wrote
about the county's doings with wit and warmth, and championed the causes in
which he believed. He created a fictional reporter - a young mountain man
named Buck Fever - and when there was a slow news day, he used Buck as an
outlet for his observations about the everyday goings-on in Marion and Smyth
Buck Fever's character was really a new direction for Anderson, and his
creation revealed just how much Anderson had been influenced by the people
of Southwest Virginia. The characters in Anderson's early writings were
often frustrated, embittered people. But in Buck Fever, he created a
humorous, warmhearted, generous character. Buck was a testament to the
warmth and vitality that Anderson found and admired in the people of
Anderson edited the two Smyth County papers until January 1, 1932, when
he officially transferred ownership of them to his son Robert, who had quit
work at the Philadelphia Bulletin to help his father. In the last
years of his ownership, Anderson had turned over more and more of his duties
to Robert, as he tired of the role of county editor and began to devote more
time to travel and writing fiction.
Even after he turned over ownership of the papers to Robert and began to
travel more extensively, Anderson considered Southwest Virginia his home. In
1933, he married Eleanor Copenhaver, the daughter of a local educator. He
and Eleanor kept coming back to Rosemont, her home in Marion, and Ripshin,
Anderson's home in neighboring Grayson County, until he died of peritonitis
in a hospital in the Panama Canal Zone on March 8, 1941. At the time of his
death, he was on a mission of friendship to South America to meet with
His wife brought his body back to Marion, where he was buried in Round
Hill Cemetery. Eulogies and tributes appeared in newspapers and literary
journals all over the world, but the most eloquent and understanding
appeared in the Smyth County News, his old newspaper. It was written
by his son.
"Sherwood Anderson had come to love this mountain country and its
people," Robert Anderson wrote. "He wrote about the turn of a road, a field
beyond. An old farmer came into the shop. 'Say, that's my field you wrote
about,' he said. 'I never realized it was beautiful until I read your
"...Always he came back to Southwest Virginia, to saunter on Marion's old
rialto, gas in Doc Thompson's drug store, argue with cronies on the
courthouse steps, discourse in Rosemont's friendly 1iving room, drop by the
print shop with a 'have you got a story on such-and-such?'
"Always he came back."
In 1976, the centennial of Sherwood Anderson's birth, a short story
contest was organized to honor the memory of Anderson and to encourage
writers who are interested in the same themes of small town life that
absorbed Anderson. The Sherwood Anderson Short Story Contest Committee
awards cash prizes to the winning stories. The committee also schedules an
annual tour of Ripshin, Anderson's home, in conjunction with its awards
banquet. The deadline for this year's contest is May 31.
For more information about the Sherwood Anderson Short Story Contest,
Brenda Umbarger at 276-783-2323 Ext. 28.