I’ve thought a lot about Sherwood Anderson as I write about the small town in Indiana, Greencastle, where I lived from age 13 to high school graduation. Anderson’s hometown, on which he based his book Winesburg Ohio, finding its portrait unflattering, more or less disowned him. (I wrote a paper in a college freshmen English class about Anderson’s play, Tea and Sympathy, arguing that it was homophobia disguised as tolerance — its message being not that people shouldn’t persecute gay boys, but that it was okay to be effeminate as long as you’re heterosexual. I wish I still had that paper. I remember the professor gave me a good grade but said he thought I wasn’t being quite fair. I stand by my argument.)
My parents left Greencastle a few years after I did — my dad found work in Muncie and they settled there. I only sustained one friendship from my teenage years. More recently, I’ve been in touch on social media with a few high school friends, and have rekindled friendships, but I don’t have any meaningful ties to that town except my memories.
I have been, and certainly was at the time, very critical of the people and culture there, but my feelings, as they’ve ripened over the years, have sweetened, and that sweetening is one of the things that motivates and underpins this new work. I like to think my portrait IS in many ways flattering, or at least fair, but to be honest, I know it will hurt some people. I mean, one of the songs is called “I Always Hated That Town In Indiana.”
Anderson changed the name of his hometown, but of course everybody knew what he was writing about. I’ve struggled since I began writing this thing, and still, with the question of whether or not to use people’s real names. The work is autobiography, it’s confessional, so it seems contrary to the spirit of it to alter the facts.
[Correction! A friend just told me that Tea and Sympathy was written by Robert Anderson, not Sherwood Anderson. So, that’s embarrassing, but my college anecdote was not germane to anything except my compulsion to follow a tangent. Anyway, enjoy the clip. After watching this trailer, I really want to watch the movie, which I’ve never seen, have only read the play and that was many years ago.]