William Sydney Porter (1862–1910,) who wrote under the assumed name O. Henry, was an American author of over 400 popular short stories.
Porter was raised in North Carolina. At age 15, he relocated to Texas after he began to show symptoms of tuberculosis. In due course, he started work as a teller for the First National Bank in Austin, got married, and had a child. After he moved to Houston, he was called back to Austin when shortages were uncovered in the bank’s ledgers. They were most likely from poor bookkeeping. Porter may have evaded conviction, but he escaped to Louisiana and then to Honduras. His wife was too sick with tuberculosis to join him there. Brokenhearted, he returned to Texas and turned himself in, with the intention that he could be with his wife while she died. Subsequently, he was sentenced to prison for five years.
It was in a Columbus, Ohio, jail that Porter’s writing career took off—he published 14 stories under the name of one of the prison’s guards, Orrin Henry. He sent his stories to a friend, who would forward them to publishers, in order that no one ever suspected that O. Henry was writing from jail. In fact, it wasn’t until after his death that the public discovered that O. Henry had gotten his start in prison.
Porter was let out for good behavior after three years in prison. He made his way in 1902 up to New York, and over the next three years, turned out a story a week for the New York World. His best known stories include, “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Furnished Room,” “The Last Leaf,”—all set in New York. One of his very last stories was his funniest, “The Ransom of Red Chief.”