William Sydney Porter (1862 - 1910) MP

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Nicknames: "O. Henry", "Olivier Henry", "Oliver Henry"
Death: Died in New York, New York, New York, United States
Cause of death: complications of cirrhosis of the liver
Managed by: Damon Eisenach
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About William Sydney Porter

William Sydney Porter, best known as O. Henry

  • Birth: 11 September 1862 - "Worth Place", a plantation in Guilford County near Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
  • Parents: Dr. William Algernon Porter, Mary Jane Virginia Swaim
  • Married: Athol Estes, Sarah (Sallie) Lindsey Coleman
  • Children: Margaret Worth Porter
  • Death: 5 June 1910 - New York, New York, United States
  • Funeral Services: Little Church Around the Corner, New York, New York, United States
  • Burial: Riverside Cemetery, Ashville, Buncombe, North Carolina, United States

O. Henry (1862-1910) was a prolific American short-story writer, a master of surprise endings, who wrote about the life of ordinary people in New York City. A twist of plot, which turns on an ironic or coincidental circumstance, is typical of O. Henry's stories.

Pen name

Porter gave various explanations for the origin of his pen name. In 1909 he gave an interview to The New York Times, in which he gave an account of it:

It was during these New Orleans days that I adopted my pen name of O. Henry. I said to a friend: "I'm going to send out some stuff. I don't know if it amounts to much, so I want to get a literary alias. Help me pick out a good one." He suggested that we get a newspaper and pick a name from the first list of notables that we found in it. In the society columns we found the account of a fashionable ball. "Here we have our notables," said he. We looked down the list and my eye lighted on the name Henry, "That'll do for a last name," said I. "Now for a first name. I want something short. None of your three-syllable names for me." "Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?" asked my friend. "Good," said I, "O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is."

A newspaper once wrote and asked me what the O stands for. I replied, "O stands for Olivier, the French for Oliver." And several of my stories accordingly appeared in that paper under the name Olivier Henry.

In the introduction to The World of O. Henry: Roads of Destiny and Other Stories (Hodder & Stoughton, 1973), William Trevor writes that when Porter was in the Ohio State Penitentiary "there was a prison guard named Orrin Henry, whom William Sydney Porter . . . immortalised as O. Henry".

The writer and scholar Guy Davenport offers another explanation: "[T]he pseudonym that he began to write under in prison is constructed from the first two letters of Ohio and the second and last two of penitentiary [bold added]."

Sources

  1. Connie Patterson, "PORTER, WILLIAM SYDNEY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpo20), accessed June 14, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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William Sydney Porter (AKA "O. Henry")'s Timeline

1862
September 11, 1862
1887
July 5, 1887
Age 24
1889
September 30, 1889
Age 27
Austin, Travis, Texas, United States
1907
November 27, 1907
Age 45
1910
June 5, 1910
Age 47
New York, New York, New York, United States
1910
Age 47
Asheville, Buncombe, North Carolina, United States