Oh, Henry! The Surprising Stories of William Sydney Porter

“O. Henry” is one of the most famous pseudonyms in American literature. It belonged to William Sydney Porter, who is often called “the master of the American short story.” His stories are famous for their surprise endings and ability to show that people and circumstances are rarely exactly what they seem to be.

There were some surprises in William Sydney Porter’s own life, too. (He was, at various times, a pharmacist, sheep rancher, land-office clerk, bank teller, publisher, cartoonist, and fugitive from justice.) In this program, Will Porter’s personal story is interwoven with updated tellings of some of the less-familiar O. Henry stories, including “While the Auto Waits” and “The Whirligig of Life.” These stories show how he used his own diverse experiences – from both his personal life and his professional life – to create believable characters and plots. They also serve as a reminder of why he was one of the most popular writers of his era, and why, of all the story writers of the late nineteenth century, his name is one of the few still recognized immediately by modern readers.

This program does not require any special AV support.

The following is a general outline of the program:

  1. A brief biography of William Sydney Porter.
  2. A discussion of his literary career, as a columnist, cartoonist, and humorist, and later as the short story writer, Henry. A view of the times in which he wrote, including public response to his work while he was alive and after his death.
  3. How his short stories have been transformed into the medium of film for modern-day audiences.
  4. A sample of his work through updated tellings of representative O. Henry short stories.

Humanities disciplines addressed by this program include: American literature, oral interpretation of literature, and biography.

Post-program discussion topics could include:

  • Turn of the (20th) century language vs. turn of the (21st) century language
  • The role of the popular magazine in the literary and cultural life of early-20th-century America.
  • A comparison of popular entertainment then with literacy, reading, and entertainment in our modern digital culture.