“Write what you like; there is no other rule.” – O. Henry
Known by his pen name, William Henry Porter was one of America’s greatest short story writers. Known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization, and surprise endings, O. Henry’s works have not only become classics but have set a standard for generations of writers who have followed in his stead. Today, the O. Henry Award is a prestigious annual prize given to outstanding short stories.
Born in North Carolina on this date in 1862, O. Henry grew up in Texas and was on the road to success in a number of fields – trained in banking and pharmacy while building a reputation as a writer for newspapers and magazines – when he got into trouble for alleged embezzlement from a bank at which he had been working.
While the charges were never proven, he nonetheless was arrested and in a panic, jumped bail and fled the country, living for a time in South America where he began writing short stories and coined the term “Banana Republic.” Drawn back to America when his wife developed a fatal illness, he was arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison. While there he wrote many successful stories, published under various names to hide his identity. One of those pen names was O. Henry.
Released early for good behavior, he began the most prolific part of his career, publishing dozens of best-selling stories and story collections and becoming one of America’s most well-known and beloved writers. Among his most famous stories were The Gift of the Magi; The Last Leaf; The Ransom of Red Chief (where a kidnap victim is so horrible that the kidnappers end up paying his family to take him back); Caballero’s Way (introducing the world to The Cisco Kid); and Cabbages and Kings (where “Banana Republic” was introduced).
He died young from liver disease but said he loved every minute of his life and work. “When one loves one's art no service seems too hard,” he remarked.
And as he lay dying he was quoted, “The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate.”
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