Hometown: Greensboro, North Carolina
About: William Sydney Porter lends the pen name "O. Henry" to surprise endings signed officially as Sydney Porter. His biography shows where he found inspiration for his characters. Their voices and his language were products of his era.
He was born 1862 Greensboro, North Carolina. When he was three years old, his mother died from tuberculosis. He left school at fifteen, worked five years in his uncle's drugstore, then for two years at a Texas sheep ranch.
In 1884 he went to Austin where he worked in a real estate office, a church choir, and spent four years as a draftsman in the General Land Office. His wife and firstborn died, but daughter Margaret survived him.
After he failed to establish a small humorous weekly, he worked in poorly-run bank. When its accounts did not balance, he was blamed for it, and fired.
In Houston, he worked for a few years until — ordered to stand trial for embezzlement — he fled to New Orleans and thence, to Honduras.
Two years later, he returned on account of his wife's illness. Apprehended, Porter served a few months more than three years in a Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. During his incarceration, he composed ten short stories, including A Blackjack Bargainer, The Enchanted Kiss, and The Duplicity of Hargraves.
In 1899, McClure's published Whistling Dick's Christmas Story and Georgia's Ruling.
While in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he sent manuscripts to New York editors. In the spring of 1902, Ainslee's Magazine offered him a regular income if he moved to New York.
In less than eight years, he became a bestselling author of collections of short stories. Cabbages and Kings came first, in 1904; followed by The Four Million; The Trimmed Lamp and Heart of the West in 1907; The Voice of the City in 1908; Roads of Destiny and Options in 1909, Strictly Business and Whirligigs in 1910. Posthumously published collections include The Gentle Grafter about the swindler, Jeff Peters; Rolling Stones and Waifs and Strays; and in 1936, unsigned stories.
Others were rewarded financially more. A Retrieved Reformation, about the safe-cracker Jimmy Valentine, got $250; six years later, $500 for dramatic rights, which gave over $100,000 royalties for playwright Paul Armstrong. Many stories have been made into films.
SOME OF O. Henry WORKS: