Sometimes, historical truth is so strange that it demands to be turned into fiction. Such is the story of William Sydney Porter, better known as the American short-story writer O. Henry. Before he made it big with tales about Magi gifts and the Cisco Kid, he embezzled some money in Texas and fled for Honduras, which at the turn of the 20th century had no extradition treaty with the United States. There, Porter observed the machinations of American robber barons that inspired him to coin the term “banana republic”—which also happens to be the title of a new novel by Eric Sean Rawson, a professor of creative writing at the University of Southern California and our guest this week. Inspired by the true life and crimes of O. Henry, Rawson’s novel vividly depicts the banana republics of the 20th century, and the troubled U.S. interventions therein, through the ironical, often drunken eyes of a fictionalized William Sydney Porter.
Go beyond the episode:
- Eric Sean Rawson’s Banana Republic
- For more on real-life banana republics and the men who made them, Rawson recommends The Incredible Yanqui by Hermann Deutsch and The Fish that Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen
- Explore the classic stories of O. Henry here
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