“Blessed be these people,” Sherwood Anderson wrote in 1922 from his third-floor apartment in the Vieux Carré. “They know how to play. They are truly a people of culture.” Anderson, riding the crest of literary fame following his novel Winesburg, Ohio, was in search of an American city free from the “speeding up and the standardization of thought” produced by industrialization. In New Orleans, he found the leisure and charm that he felt the nation had lost: the value of “putting the joy of living above the much less subtle and.. altogether more stupid joy of growth and achievement.” In the Vieux Carré, the famous Modernist had found his American Paris.
After a short stay in the winter of 1921, in 1924 Anderson decided to move permanently into an upper Pontalba building apartment with his new wife, Elizabeth Prall, and his son Robert. The building, constructed in 1849 by the wealthy Baroness Pontalba as a center for the social elite, had fallen into disrepair and, by the turn of the 20th century, become tenement housing. An artist had renovated the building only a few years before Anderson’s arrival.
Anderson quickly became a central figure in the bohemian social scene of the Vieux Carré. He was a regular contributor to The Double Dealer, a small Modernist magazine founded in 1920 by two young men from prominent local Jewish families. The magazine would later be the first to publish the work of two young writers, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Faulkner immediately won Sherwood’s friendship when he showed up on the Andersons’ doorstep during one of their frequent dinner parties for artists and writers.
When he was not socializing, Anderson usually spent his mornings writing and his afternoons strolling the streets or the levee along the Mississippi River. Here he watched the African-American stevedores “working, laughing, sweating, and singing.” Anderson would later use his perception of African-Americans, people who “love like healthy animals,” in his novel Dark Laughter. In it, the white protagonists of America and Europe engage in erratic sexual affairs as they attempt to escape the shadows of World War I and modern industrialization, though they lack the simple unity of spirit that Anderson felt he saw in the dockworkers along the Mississippi. The novel’s title references the laughter and singing of African-American people whom the male protagonist meets in New Orleans.
Some of Anderson’s other works referenced specific acquaintances, such as his close neighbor on Chartres Street, Aunt Rose Arnold, an elderly Chicagoan who owned a house of gambling and prostitution. In Anderson’s short story “A Meeting South,” he casts her as Aunt Sally, a matronly businesswoman from the Midwest who has since retired. She and the Ohioan narrator have a conversation in New Orleans with a young poet named David, wounded in war and soggy with drink. David’s character is based on William Faulkner.
Anderson himself was featured in two works by Faulkner. The first, “Mosquitoes,” tells the true story of an unfortunate trip in which a group of bohemians becomes stranded on a small boat on Lake Pontchartrain. Another work by Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles, is a light-hearted caricature of the Vieux Carre’s artistic characters, with sketches by William Spratling, of silversmithing fame, and an introduction that Faulkner intended to be a parody of Anderson’s writing.
After nearly two years in New Orleans, the Andersons left in the summer of 1926 for the mountains of Virginia.