O'Henry is a famous American short-story writer, a master of surprise endings of the stories. He wrote about the life of ordinary people in New York City. Typical for O'Henry's stories is a twist of plot which turns on an ironic or coincidental circumstance.
William Sidney Porter (O'Henry) was born in Greenboro, North Carolina. His father, Algernon Sidney Porter, was a physician. When William was three, his mother died, and he was raised by his paternal grandmother and a paternal aunt. William was an avid reader, but at the age of fifteen he left the school, and then worked in a drug store and on a Texas ranch. He continued to Houston, where he had a number of jobs, including that of bank clerk. After moving to Austin, Texas, in 1882, he married.
In 1884 Porter started a humorous weekly "The Rolling Stone". It was at this time that he began the heavy drinking. When the weekly failed, he joined the "Houston Post" as a reporter and columnist In 1894 cash was found to have gone missing from the bank and O'Henry fled to Honduras. He returned to Austin the next year because his wife was dying. In 1897 he was convicted of embezzling bank fund, although there has been much debate over his actual guilt. In 1898 he entered a penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio.
While in prison O'Henry started to write short stories to earn money to support his daughter Margaret. His first work, "Whistling Dicks Christmas Stocking" (1899), appeared in "McClures Magazine" The stories of adventure in the U. S. Southwest and in Central America gained an immediately success among readers. After doing three years of the five years sentence, Porter emerged from the prison in 1901 and changed his name to O'Henry. According to some sources, he acquired the pseudonym from a warder called Orrin Henry.
O'Henry moved to New York City in 1902 and from December 1903 to January 1906 he wrote a story a week for the New York "World", also publishing in other magazines.
O'Henry's first collection, "Cabbages and Kings" appeared in 1904.
The second, "The Four Million" was published two years later and included his well-known stories "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Furnished Room." "The Trimmed Lamp" (1907) explored the lives of New Yorkers and included "The Last Leaf". "Heart of the West" (1907) presented tales of the Texas range.
O'Henry published 10 collections and over 600 short stories during his life time.
O'Henrys last years were shadowed by alcoholism, ill health, and financial problems. He married in 1907 Sara Lindsay Coleman, but the marriage was not happy, and they separated a year later. O'Henry died of cirrhosis of the liver on June 5, 1910, in New York.