Maxwell Anderson

Maxwell AndersonOne of the most important American playwrights of the early 20th century, Maxwell Anderson was born in Atlantic, Pennsylvania, in 1888. He graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1911 and received his M.A. from Stanford University in 1914. He taught briefly, then turned to journalism, working with such newspapers as the Grand Forks Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Francisco Bulletin. Later, he was an editorial writer for the New Republic, the New York Globe, and the New York World.

When Anderson wrote his first play, White Desert, he wrote it in verse because he was weary of "plays in prose that never lifted from the ground." The play failed, however, and Anderson temporarily abandoned his dream of bringing tragic poetry to the American stage. He focused his attention instead on What Price Glory?, a World War I comedy which he was co-authoring with Laurence Stallings and which proved to be a solid hit. He followed this first success with another successful play, Saturday's Children (1927), a drama which examines the marital problems of a young couple. Although he had returned to his true love tragedy, he had still not gathered enough confidence to attempt another play in verse. Then he had an epiphany--poetic tragedy had never successfully written about its own place and time! He realized that there is not one tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Corneille, or Racine which did not have the advantage of a setting either far away or long ago. Keeping this in mind, he soon composed two very successful dramas in verse--Elizabeth the Queen (1930) and Mary of Scotland (1933). His crowning achievement, however, was still to come.

In 1935, Anderson broke his newly discovered rule and composed Winterset, a poetic tragedy based on a true story and set in contemporary America. Unlike his earlier attempt at contemporary verse drama, Winterset was a huge success and won for Anderson the very first New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1935). The next year, Anderson again took the award for High Tor (1936). Other plays include Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), Key Largo (1939), Eve of St. Mark (1942), Joan of Lorraine (1946), Lost in the Stars (1949), Bad Seed (1954), and Both Your Houses (1933) for which Anderson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

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Anderson's Plays  |  Biographies/Studies


Anderson's Plays


Related Sites

American Theatre Index

Related Playwrights

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William Inge

Arthur Miller

Eugene O'Neill

Tennessee Williams

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