“The Big Reveal,” by Louis Menand in the July 5, 2021 issue of The New Yorker is about William Sidney Porter—a.k.a. O Henry—one of the most successful short story writers of all time. Identified as a New York City writer, Porter was in fact born in North Carolina (with mid-1800s Southerner’s attitudes to match) and moved as a young man to Texas. There, he started a weekly magazine called The Rolling Stone for his cartoons and humorous verses, but the magazine was not financially successful. He took a job as a teller at the First National Bank of Austin. A federal bank examiner found a shortage of $5,000 and accused Porter of embezzlement.
Several twists and turns took place after the indictment, which I shall refer you to the article to read, after which Porter was sentenced to five years in prison.
In prison, he wrote fourteen short stories, avidly listening the life stories of his fellow inmates. He was released early for good behavior, and headed to New York City, where he’d never been before. There, he wrote a story a week for The Sunday World, producing sixty-six stories in a year.
He listened to people, took people’s stories, and concocted plots with the trademark “O Henry” twists at the end. He started his method when he was in prison and continued it all his short life. He loved hanging out in bars in NYC, meeting people and hearing their stories. He identified with the “common man,” sold four million of his books in the U.S., and one-and-a-half million books in the Soviet Union.
Despite his publishing success, Porter lived a hand-to-mouth life as a writer. He generously gave money to people who asked him for it. He died of liver disease at age forty-seven.
Porter lived in “the golden age of the short story,” writing alongside short story writers like Edgar Allen Poe, Anton Chekov, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, among others.
Edgar Allen Poe says something fascinating about the short story and the short story’s writer’s obligations—but I won’t reproduce the quotation here. I’ll leave you to read the article.
Recommended for fans of O. Henry, readers of short stories, and anyone interested in the twists and turns of a creative writer’s life.
Here’s the link https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/07/05/are-all-short-stories-o-henry-stories
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