William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 - June 5, 1910), better known by his pen name O. Henry, was an American short story writer. O. Henry's short stories are known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization, and surprise endings.
His parents were Dr. Algernon Sidney Porter (1825-88), a physician, and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter (1833-65). William's parents had married on April 20, 1858. When William was three, his mother died from tuberculosis, and he and his father moved into the home of his paternal grandmother. As a child, Porter was always reading, everything from classics to dime novels; his favorite works were Lane's translation of One Thousand and One Nights, and Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.
Porter traveled with Dr. James K. Hall to Texas in March 1882, hoping that a change of air would help alleviate a persistent cough he had developed. He took up residence on the sheep ranch of Richard Hall, James' son, in La Salle County and helped out as a shepherd, ranch hand, cook and baby-sitter. While on the ranch, he learned bits of Spanish and German from the mix of immigrant ranch hands. He also spent time reading classic literature.
Porter's most prolific writing period started in 1902, when he moved to New York City to be near his publishers. While there, he wrote 381 short stories. He wrote a story a week for over a year for the New York World Sunday Magazine. His wit, characterization, and plot twists were adored by his readers, but often panned by critics.
The O. Henry Award is a prestigious annual prize named after Porter and given to outstanding short stories.