September 11, 2010

O Henry: twaddle about himself

He was born William Sydney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 11, 1862. Years later, he was coy about the year of his birth, saying nothing more specific than "about the close of the war." He was equally coy about his name; literary history would remember him as "O. Henry."

Porter kept his true identity a secret on purpose: he asked that his photo never be circulated and provided little information about his personal life. "Nobody but a concentrated idiot would write over a pen-name and then tack on a lot of twaddle about himself," he wrote. As such, the true "O. Henry" was a bit mystifying. He once refused to tell an admirer whether he was male or female.

Regardless, his work was popular and highly approved of by many readers, including his short story "The Gift of the Magi." Some in his lifetime were calling "O. Henry" a classic author, "one of the great masters of modern literature," and the greatest of American writers. But, he came from humble beginnings. In his own words:

I was born and raised in "No'th Ca'llina" and at eighteen went to Texas and ran wild on the prairies. Wild yet, but not so wild. Can't get to loving New Yorkers. Live all alone in a great big two rooms on quiet old Irving Place three doors from Wash. Irving's old home. Kind of lonesome. Was thinking lately (since the April moon commenced to shine) how I'd like to be down South... and sit down on the porch — not on a chair — on the edge of the porch, and lay my straw hat on the steps and lay my head back against the honeysuckle on the post — and just talk.

After a time in Texas, O. Henry's most prolific period was spent in New York, where he wrote most of his notable short stories (including "The Gift of the Magi"). Even so, he often fondly recalled North Carolina, the state of his birth and boyhood. It was there that he was buried after his death in 1910. He was 47.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.