Today is the 159th birthday of the writer William Sydney Porter who’s professional pen name was O. Henry. No relation to the candy bar that I could find. His highly quotable short stories are as relevant today as the day they were written, even being quoted by Barack Obama during his presidency. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: William Sydney Porter
BIRTH DATE: September 11, 1862
DEATH DATE: June 5, 1910
PLACE OF BIRTH: Greensboro, North Carolina
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
CAUSE OF DEATH: unspecified
REMAINS: Buried, Riverside Cemetery, Asheville, NC
BEST KNOWN FOR: William Sydney Porter was a prolific short story writer whose work appeared under the name O. Henry.
Born William Sydney Porter, on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina. The American short-story writer pioneered in picturing the lives of lower-class and middle-class New Yorkers.
Porter attended school for a short time, then clerked in an uncle’s drugstore. At the age of 20, Porter went to Texas, working first on a ranch and later as a bank teller. In 1887, he married Athol Estes and began to write freelance sketches. A few years later he founded a humorous weekly, The Rolling Stone. When the publication failed, he became a reporter and columnist on the Houston Post.
The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate.
Indicted in 1896 for embezzling bank funds (actually a result of technical mismanagement), Porter fled to a reporting job in New Orleans, then to Honduras. When news of his wife’s serious illness reached him, he returned to Texas. After her death, Porter was imprisoned in Columbus, Ohio. During his three-year incarceration, he wrote adventure stories set in Texas and Central America that quickly became popular and were collected in Cabbages and Kings (1904).
Released from prison in 1902, Porter went to New York City, his home and the setting of most of his fiction for the remainder of his life. Writing prodigiously under the pen name O. Henry, he completed one story a week for a newspaper, in addition to other stories for magazines. Popular collections of his stories included The Four Million (1906); Heart of the West and The Trimmed Lamp (both 1907); The Gentle Grafter and The Voice of the City (both 1908); Options (1909); and Whirligigs and Strictly Business (both 1910).
O. Henry’s most representative collection was probably The Four Million. The title and the stories answered the snobbish claim of socialite Ward McAllister that only 400 people in New York “were really worth noticing” by detailing events in the lives of everyday Manhattanites. In his most famous story, The Gift of the Magi, a poverty-stricken New York couple secretly sell valued possessions to buy one another Christmas gifts. Ironically, the wife sells her hair so that she can buy her husband a watch chain, while he sells his watch so that he can buy her a pair of combs.
Incapable of integrating a book-length narrative, O. Henry was skilled in plotting short ones. He wrote in a dry, humorous style and, as in The Gift of the Magi, frequently used coincidences and surprise endings to underline ironies. Even after O. Henry’s death on June 5, 1910, stories continued to be collected: Sixes and Sevens (1911); Rolling Stones (1912); Waifs and Strays (1917); O. Henryana (1920); Letters to Lithopolis (1922); Postscripts (1923); and O. Henry Encore (1939).
Author of books:
Cabbages and Kings (1904)
The Four Million (1906, short stories)
The Trimmed Lamp (1907)
Heart of the West (1907, short stories)
The Voice of the City (1908)
The Gentle Grafter (1908)
Roads of Destiny (1909)
Strictly Business (1910)
Whirligigs (1910, short stories)
Let Me Feel Your Pulse (1910)
Sixes and Sevens (1911, short stories)
Rolling Stones (1912, short stories)
Waifs and Strays (1917, short stories)
O Henryana (1920, short stories)
O Henry Encore (1939)
The Complete Works of O. Henry (1912, anthology, 14 vols.)