William Sydney Porter, whose pen name was O. Henry, was born 150 years ago today. From my Wall Street Journal article in 2010, on the centenary of his death:
The content of his stories suggests that Porter was a romantic. Yet he viewed his writing as an ordinary job rather than a higher calling. “It is my way of getting money to pay room rent, to buy food and clothes and Pilsener,” he claimed. “I write for no other reason or purpose.” The beer eventually did him in: Porter died of cirrhosis at the age of 47, probably an alcoholic. Whatever his shortcomings as a man and an author, it’s hard to argue with his success. The “O. Henry story” describes not merely the work of a single writer. It defines a literary type.