O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
William Sydney Porter’s connection to Ohio is unlike any other Ohioana author. He was neither born, nor educated in the Buckeye State; the writer was a Southerner, born and bred. But from 1898 to 1901, Porter completed some of his best work while living in Columbus – behind bars at the federal penitentiary.
Sentenced to serve five years for embezzlement, Porter used the time to write short stories under the pseudonym, O. Henry. Deeply shamed by his prison record, the ex-convict legally changed his name to O. Henry to shield his past. Though he died at age 39 – just nine years after his release from prison – O. Henry lived to become one of the finest storytellers in American literature.
In the era that preceded movies and television, short stories like those by O. Henry entertained the masses. He had a unique style of mixing dry wit with ironic twists or surprise endings. All told, the prolific writer published ten collections of short stories. He reached thousands more by contributing to the popular magazines of the day.
Though he felt degraded by his past, O. Henry’s best fiction was inspired by his early experiences as a poor and sickly orphan, a fugitive in Latin America, and as a prison inmate. Long after his death, O. Henry is remembered for his humorous depictions of both ordinary and extraordinary situations.