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              O. Henry

              A picture of the author O. Henry

              O. Henry (1862 - 1910) was an American short story author whose real name was William Sydney Porter. Henry's rich canon of work reflected his wide-range of experiences and is distinctive for its witticism, clever wordplay, and unexpected twist endings.

              Like many other writers, O. Henry's early career aspirations were unfocused and he wandered across different activities and professions before he finally found his calling as a short story writer. He started working in his uncle's drugstore in 1879 and became a licensed pharmacist by the age of 19. His first creative expressions came while working in the pharmacy where he would sketch the townspeople that frequented the store. The customers reacted warmly to his drawings and he was admired for his artistry and drawing skills.

              O. Henry moved to Texas in March of 1882 hoping to get rid of a persistent cough that he had developed. While there, he took up residence on a sheep ranch, learned shepherding, cooking, babysitting, and bits of Spanish and German from the many migrant farmhands. He had an active social life in Austin and was a fine musician, skilled with the guitar and mandolin. Over the next several years, Porter -- as he was still known -- took a number of different jobs, from pharmacy to drafting, journalism, and banking.

              Here's where the twists and turns really started. Banking, in particular, was not to be O. Henry's calling; he was quite careless with his bookkeeping, fired by the bank and charged with embezzlement in 1894. His father-in-law posted bail for him, but he fled the day before the trial in 1896, first to New Orleans, then to Honduras, where there was no extradition treaty. He befriended a notorious train robber there, Al Jennings, who later wrote a book about their friendship. O. Henry sent his wife and daughter back to Texas, after which he holed up in a hotel to write his first collection of short stories, Cabbages an Kings published in 1904. He learned his wife was dying of tuberculosis and could not join him in Honduras, so he returned to Austin and turned himself in to the court. His father-in-law again posted his bail so he could remain with his wife until her death in 1897. He was sentenced and served in Federal prison in Ohio for five years from 1989-1902. During his jail time, he returned to practicing pharmacy and had a room in the hospital, never having to live in a cell.

              O. Henry was always a lover of classic literature, and while pursuing his many ventures, O. Henry had begun writing as a hobby. When he lost his banking position he moved to Houston in 1895 and started writing for the The Post, earning $25 per month (an average salary at this time in American history was probably about $300 a year). O. Henry collected ideas for his column by loitering in hotel lobbies and observing and talking to people there. He relied on this technique to gain creative inspiration throughout his writing career; which is a fun fact to keep in mind while reading an imaginative masterpiece of a story like Transients in Arcadia. The many twists and turns of his own life, including his travels in Latin America and time spent in prison, clearly inspired his stories' twists and wordplay.

              O. Henry's prolific writing period began in 1902 in New York City, where he wrote 381 short stories. He wrote one story a week for The New York World Sunday Magazine for over a year. Some of his best and least known work is contained in Cabbages and Kings, whose title was inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter. The stories were set in a midwestern American town in which sub-plots and larger plots are interwoven in an engaging manner. His second collection of stories, The Four Million, was released in 1906. The stories are set in New York City, and the title is based on the population of the city at that time. The collection contained several short story masterpieces, including The Gift of the Magi, The Cop and the Anthem, and many others. Henry had an obvious affection for New York City and its diversity of people and places, a reverence that rises up through many of his stories.

              O. Henry's trademark is his witty, plot-twisting endings, and his warm characterization of the awkward and difficult situations and the creative ways people find to resolve them. His most famous short story, The Gift of the Magi, epitomizes his style. It's bout a young married couple, short on money, who wish to buy each other Christmas gifts. That problem -- their lack of funds -- finds a famously endearing and ironic resolution. The Cop and the Anthem is about A New York City hobo with a creative solution for dealing with the cold city streets during winter. Another story, A Retrieved Reformation, is about a safecracker, Jimmy Valentine, fresh from prison, whose life takes an unexpected turn while trying to come clean (or is he casing his next crime scene?) The Ransom of Red Chief, a story about two hapless kidnappers who snatch a heinous boy whose menacing ways turn the tables on them. All of O. Henry's stories are highly entertaining, whether read for pleasure or studied in classrooms around the world.

              In 1952, Marilyn Monroe and Charles Laughton starred in O. Henry's Full House, a film featuring five of O. Henry's short stories. The film included The Cop and the Anthem, The Clarion Call, The Last Leaf, The Ransom of Red Chief (starring Fred Allen and Oscar Levant), and The Gift of the Magi.

              Unfortunately, O. Henry's personal tragedy was heavy drinking. By 1908, his health had deteriorated and his writing dropped off accordingly. He died in 1910 of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes, and an enlarged heart. The funeral was held in New York City, but he was buried in North Carolina, the state where he was born. He was a gifted short story writer and left us a rich legacy of great stories to enjoy.

              Enjoy some illustrated Short Stories from O. Henry; click to read.

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              Short Stories

              A Bird of Bagdad
              A Blackjack Bargainer
              A Call Loan
              According to Their Lights
              A Chaparral Christmas Gift
              A Chaparral Prince
              A Comedy in Rubber
              A Cosmopolite in a Cafe
              A Departmental Case
              A Dinner at--------*
              A Double-Dyed Deceiver
              A Fog in Santone
              After Twenty Years
              A Harlem Tragedy
              A Lickpenny Lover
              A Little Local Colour
              A Little Talk About Mobs
              A Madison Square Arabian Night
              A Matter Of Mean Elevation
              A Midsummer Knight's Dream
              A Midsummer Masquerade
              A Municipal Report
              An Adjustment of Nature
              An Afternoon Miracle
              An Apology
              A Newspaper Story
              An Unfinished Christmas Story
              An Unfinished Story
              A Poor Rule
              A Retrieved Reformation
              Aristocracy Versus Hash
              A Ruler of Men
              A Sacrifice Hit
              A Service of Love
              A Snapshot at the President
              A Strange Story
              A Technical Error
              A Tempered Wind
              Babes in the Jungle
              Between Rounds
              Bexar Scrip No. 2692
              Blind Man's Holiday
              Brickdust Row
              Buried Treasure
              By Courier
              Calloway's Code
              Cherchez La Femme
              Christmas By Injunction
              Compliments of the Season
              Confessions Of A Humorist
              Conscience in Art
              Cupid A La Carte
              Cupid's Exile Number Two
              Dougherty's Eye-Opener
              Extradited from Bohemia
              Fickle Fortune or How Gladys Hustled
              Friends in San Rosario
              From Each According to His Ability
              From the Cabby's Seat
              Georgia's Ruling
              He Also Serves
              Hearts And Crosses
              Hearts And Hands
              Holding Up a Train
              Hostages to Momus
              Hygeia At The Solito
              Innocents of Broadway
              Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet
              Jimmy Hayes and Muriel
              Law and Order
              Let Me Feel Your Pulse
              Little Speck in Garnered Fruit
              Lord Oakhurst's Curse
              Lost on Dress Parade
              Madame Bo-peep, Of The Ranches
              Makes the Whole World Kin
              Mammon and the Archer
              Man About Town
              Masters of Arts
              Memoirs of a Yellow Dog
              Modern Rural Sports
              Money Maze
              Nemesis and the Candy Man
              New York by Camp Fire Light
              Next to Reading Matter
              No Story
              One Dollar's Worth
              One Thousand Dollars
              Out Of Nazareth
              Past One at Rooney's
              Proof of the Pudding
              Psyche and the Pskyscraper
              Queries and Answers
              Roads of Destiny
              Roses, Ruses and Romance
              Rouge et Noir
              Round The Circle
              Rus In Urbe
              Schools And Schools
              Seats Of The Haughty
              Shearing the Wolf
              Sisters of the Golden Circle
              Sociology In Serge And Straw
              Sound and Fury
              Springtime a la Carte
              Squaring the Circle
              Strictly Business
              Suite Homes And Their Romance
              Telemachus, Friend
              The Admiral
              The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes
              The Assessor of Success
              The Atavism of John Tom Little Bear
              The Badge of Policeman O'Roon
              The Buyer From Cactus City
              The Caballero's Way
              The Cactus
              The Caliph and the Cad
              The Caliph, Cupid and the Clock
              The Call of the Tame
              The Chair of Philanthromathematics
              The Champion of the Weather
              The Church with an Overshot-Wheel
              The City of Dreadful Night
              The Clarion Call
              The Coming-Out of Maggie
              The Complete Life of John Hopkins
              The Cop and the Anthem
              The Count and the Wedding Guest
              The Country of Elusion
              The Day Resurgent
              The Day We Celebrate
              The Defeat of the City
              The Detective Detector
              The Diamond of Kali
              The Discounters of Money
              The Dog And The Playlet
              The Door of Unrest
              The Dream
              The Duel
              The Duplicity of Hargraves
              The Easter of the Soul
              The Emancipation of Billy
              The Enchanted Kiss
              The Enchanted Profile
              The Ethics of Pig
              The Exact Science of Matrimony
              The Ferry of Unfulfilment
              The Fifth Wheel
              The Flag Paramount
              The Fool-Killer
              The Foreign Policy of Company 99
              The Fourth in Salvador
              The Friendly Call
              The Furnished Room
              The Gift of the Magi
              The Girl and the Graft
              The Girl and the Habit
              The Gold That Glittered
              The Greater Coney
              The Green Door
              The Guardian of the Accolade
              The Guilty Party - An East Side Tragedy
              The Halberdier of the Little Rheinschloss
              The Handbook Of Hymen
              The Hand that Riles the World
              The Harbinger
              The Head-hunter
              The Hiding Of Black Bill
              The Higher Abdication
              The Higher Pragmatism
              The Hypotheses Of Failure
              The Indian Summer Of Dry Valley Johnson
              The Lady Higher Up
              The Last Leaf
              The Last of the Troubadours
              The Lonesome Road
              The Lost Blend
              The Lotus And The Bottle
              The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein
              The Making of a New Yorker
              The Man Higher Up
              The Marionettes
              The Marquis and Miss Sally
              The Marry Month Of May
              The Memento
              The Missing Chord
              The Moment Of Victory
              The Octopus Marooned
              The Passing of Black Eagle
              The Pendulum
              The Phonograph and the Graft
              The Pimienta Pancakes
              The Plutonian Fire
              The Poet and the Peasant
              The Pride of the Cities
              The Princess And The Puma
              The Prisoner of Zembla
              The Proem
              The Purple Dress
              The Ransom Of Mack
              The Ransom of Red Chief
              The Rathskeller and the Rose
              The Red Roses Of Tonia
              The Reformation Of Calliope
              The Remnants of the Code
              The Renaissance at Charleroi
              The Roads We Take
              The Robe of Peace
              The Romance of a Busy Broker
              The Rose Of Dixie
              The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball
              The Rubber Plant's Story
              The Shamrock and the Palm
              The Shocks of Doom
              The Skylight Room
              The Sleuths
              The Snow Man
              The Social Triangle
              The Song And The Sergeant
              The Sparrows In Madison Square
              The Sphinx Apple
              The Tale of a Tainted Tenner
              The Theory And The Hound
              The Thing's the Play
              The Third Ingredient
              The Trimmed Lamp
              The Unknown Quantity
              The Unprofitable Servant
              The Venturers
              The Vitagraphoscope
              The Voice of the City
              The Whirligig Of Life
              The World And The Door
              Thimble, Thimble
              Tobin's Palm
              To Him Who Waits
              Tommy's Burglar
              Tracked to Doom
              Transformation of Martin Burney
              Transients in Arcadia
              Two Recalls
              Two Renegades
              Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen
              Ulysses and the Dogman
              Vanity and Some Sables
              What You Want
              While the Auto Waits
              Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking
              Witches' Loaves

              Anton Chekhov
              Nathaniel Hawthorne
              Susan Glaspell
              Mark Twain
              Edgar Allan Poe
              Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
              Herman Melville
              Stephen Leacock
              Kate Chopin
              Bj?rnstjerne Bj?rnson