O. Henry, pseud. of William Sydney Porter, 1862–1910, American short-story writer, b. Greensboro, N.C. He went to Texas in 1882 and worked at various jobs—as teller in an Austin bank (1891–94) and as a newspaperman for the Houston Post. In 1898 an unexplained shortage in the Austin bank was charged to him. Although many people believed him innocent, he fled to the Honduras but returned to be with his wife, who was fatally ill. He eventually served three years in prison, where he first started writing short stories. Upon his release he settled in New York City and became a highly successful and prolific contributor to various magazines. His short, simple stories are noted for their careful plotting, ironic coincidences, and surprise endings. Although his stories have been criticized as shallow and contrived, O. Henry did catch the color and movement of the city and evidenced a genuine sympathy for ordinary people. His approximately 300 stories are collected in Cabbages and Kings (1904), The Four Million (1906), The Voice of the City (1908), Options (1909), and others.
See biographies by G. Langford (1957) and R. O'Connor (1970); study by J. Gallegly (1970); bibliography by P. S. Clarkson (1938).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.