By Charles E. Modlin
From 1933 to 1940, Sherwood Anderson made several radio appearances. Recordings of these, like all other recordings of his voice, seem to have been lost, but in a few cases scripts of the broadcasts and a few of his notes about them survive. Two such texts relate to an appearance on the Heinz Magazine of the Air along with Amelia Earhart on October 2, 1936, exactly nine months before her plane crash. For this program Anderson was asked to prepare a script, for which he was paid $100. The thirty-minute program, consisting of music and Heinz soup commercials as well as interviews, was broadcast on the Columbia Broadcasting System at 11:00 A.M. and again at 3:00 P.M. The Earhart interview came first, and then, after the orchestra played “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” Anderson was introduced:
EDITOR: Sherwood Anderson is a great American writer who lives to see himself already named among the immortals. His stories have been called the truest that have sprung out of western soil. In his work he appears as both poet and prophet. Modest, simple, and sincere, he has retired to a small southern town, where he works in a cabin, thinking of himself, in his own words as “just a lay figure, sitting here writing.” From this retirement Sherwood Anderson emerges to contribute to the Heinz Magazine of the Air… Mr. Anderson.
MR. ANDERSON: As I continually wander up and down America, people say to me, “Ah, you are getting material for stories? And I always surprise them by saying, “No.” I do not seek stories. I try to avoid them. To find the story is not difficult. Telling it solidly and well and with some grace is another matter.
The adventure of the writer is one with people. We don’t seek stories, but we do want to know why. Why does this man run desperately across a field? Why is the woman crying? Why does the man with the beard laugh when there is nothing to laugh about? You sit with a group of people who are chattering. They are saying words and sentences but there is something else going on. Thoughts fly back and forth.
People are always saying one thing and really meaning another. Every house, every man and woman has a story. But to try to thread your way in the strange tangle of human relationships and impulses is always a delicate and difficult job. The writer can never tell what will set him off on a new trail. Some time ago, I was asked by Mr. Henry Morgenthau, our Secretary of the Treasury, to go to a certain trial of bootleggers and rumrunners in a Virginia mountain county. Mr. Morgenthau said, “These are good mountain people. I’d like the human side of their story told.”
I did try to tell it, in a magazine story, but I wasn’t satisfied. Certain figures I had seen, men and women, haunted me. They were like people standing in the street before my house shouting. “Tell our real story. Tell it all,” they seemed to shout. So I had to try again, in a full length novel called Kit Brandon I am publishing this month.
The writer’s adventures are never ending. There are so many people, so many stories. Sometimes I wish I could be sure of living three hundred years. There are enough stories packed away in me now to keep me writing day and night for at least that long. The writer’s life is always adventurous but it is also often bitterly disappointing. At least with me there are too many stories I should be telling that I am not man enough to tell.
But no man can be very dissatisfied with his life who has a job that, try as he will, he can never do as well as he would like.
EDITOR: Thank you, Mr. Anderson.
Anderson also made a few notes about his impressions of this 1936 broadcast, which survive in fragmentary form:
a system of signs controls us all.
Singers etc. appear at mikes C and B . . . jazz singers etc., the fellows who get off the advertising talk about Heinz soups etc. Singers and announcers come and go. Amelia sits at K while I am at F talking into the mike and I sit at K while she is at F talking.
The floor is so padded that no footsteps are heard. You must not even rustle the paper on which what you are to say is written. Amelia amused by it all. Me ditto. We grin at each other. Her husband stands near. He whispers to me. “It’s crazy,” he says, “but you should be in a movie studio nowadays.
“That’s my racket,” he says.
You do, for some obscure reason, get consciousness of the audience. You are nervous.
This is the Columbia Broadcasting Co. etc.
One of the vice presidents used to work with me out in Chicago.
Another man, an editor, used also to work with me.
People–from the orchestra, girl stenographers, a man who is a big official–all come up with books of mine to be autographed.
An oldish woman with a fine but tired face comes up. She speaks of A Story Teller’s Story. “Don’t get caught in this racket, will you?”
“You would be amazed how many people in this crazy place wait for anything you write.”
A strange man comes. “I am a friend of Morley Callaghan. He loves you.”
I am pretty deeply touched by all this. I get my hat and go down the elevator into the street. What a strange world.
1. Letter from Clark H. Getts, August 6, 1936 (Newberry Library). The script, along with the manuscript following, are housed in Special Collections at the Newberry Library. They are reproduced here with their kind permission and that of the Sherwood Anderson Literary Estate Trust.
2. “City Gangs Enslave Moonshine Mountaineers,” Liberty 12 (2 Nov. 1935): 12-13.
3. Apparently the letters refer to a diagram showing the locations of the participants, but it has not survived.
4. George P. Putnam, publisher and explorer.
5. Canadian writer of fiction, who, Anderson wrote, felt “sorry for me because the public did not accept me more” (Sherwood Anderson’s Secret Love Letters, ed. Ray Lewis White [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991], 258.