Monday, September 1, 2008
O. Henry's House
So the rest of these entries will be written retrospectively since I am now home safe in New York. My last entry was written in the research library at UT Austin while I was waiting for the Steinbeck letters to be culled for my perusal. They were sooo cool to actually hold and look at. They were written on all kinds of paper, but mostly on yellow legal sheets. He wrote a lot about his daily routines, the purchase of his new home and the progress he was making on his books. He seemed particularly concerned with how things were going on The Pearl. Very interesting. The letters were written to his publisher over a course of many years. There were hundreds of letters and, since the library was closing, I couldn't possibly read all of them. In any event, it was probably one of the coolest stops on the trip. The resources at this library were very impressive, though not all of them were accessible to the general public without good reason. I should try to access more of these research centers near home, etc.
So the following day I visited O. Henry's home in Austin. He lived there from approximately the age of 24 - 38. His time in Texas, however, was sort of colored by all kinds of hard times. His wife died in 1897 and soon after that he was found guilty of embezzlement charges and was sent off to jail...in Columbus, Ohio, one of the first stops on my literary tour (though I didn't visit the prison). After his time in jail he never returned to Texas, but made it out to the east coast, Philadelphia and New York. In New York you can have a beer in the booth where he penned "The Gift of the Magi" if you hit up Pete's Tavern on Irving Place, just a short walk from Union Square. At the O. Henry house I purchased a comic book that graphically depicts many of O. Henry's stories. I'm excited to use this in my class this year because hopefully it will break down the material for the students and also inspire them to produce their own graphic versions of literature.
Another thing that I learned at the O. Henry house were all the different theories as to how O. Henry (whose real name is William Sydney Porter) got his pen name. One idea is that he basically just made it up while looking through the newspaper and trying to create a name for himself under which to write. It has also been said that the name comes from the title "OHio pENitentaRY." I'm not exactly sure but either way it sounds like he basically picked something he liked without much rhyme or reason.