William Saroyan

William Saroyan



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William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, on 31st August, 1908. Saroyan left school at fifteen but continued his education by reading books in the public library. His first collection of stories, The Darling Young Man on the Flying Trapeze appeared in 1934. This was followed by Inhale and Exhale (1936).

Saroyan became involved in the Group Theatre in New York where he worked with Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan and Clifford Odets. Members of the group tended to hold left-wing political views and wanted to produce plays that dealt with important social issues. The group produced his play, My Heart's in the Highlands (1939). The following year he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his play The Time of Your Life, but he rejected it.

Saroyan's later work includes the autobiographical My Name is Aram (1940), Dear Baby (1944), The Human Comedy (1943), Mama, I Love You (1956), Papa, You're Crazy (1957), One Day in the Afternoon of the World (1964) and Places Where I Have Done Time (1975).

Saroyan wrote three volumes of autobiography: The Bicycle Rider in Beverley Hills(1952), There Goes, You Know Who (1961) and Obituaries (1979). William Saroyan died on 18th May, 1981.


William Saroyan

William Saroyan [2] ( / s ə ˈ r ɔɪ ə n / August 31, 1908 – May 18, 1981) was an Armenian-American novelist, playwright, and short story writer. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1940, and in 1943 won the Academy Award for Best Story for the film The Human Comedy. When the studio rejected his original 240-page treatment, he turned it into a novel, The Human Comedy.

Saroyan wrote extensively about the Armenian immigrant life in California. Many of his stories and plays are set in his native Fresno. [3] Some of his best-known works are The Time of Your Life, My Name Is Aram and My Heart's in the Highlands.

He has been described in a Dickinson College news release as "one of the most prominent literary figures of the mid-20th century" [4] and by Stephen Fry as "one of the most underrated writers of the [20th] century." Fry suggests that "he takes his place naturally alongside Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner". [5] Kurt Vonnegut has said that Saroyan was "the first and still the greatest of all the American minimalists. [6]


Controversy over dedication to Armenian American author in Tujunga echoes local debates

An upcoming dedication of an intersection in Tujunga-Sunland to an Armenian American author has sparked controversy between local residents who have claimed the initiative will overshadow the corner’s existing historical significance and those who believe the opposition is grounded in ethnic discrimination.

On Oct. 9, one day after L.A. City Council voted to designate William Saroyan Square with a plaque at the crossing of Commerce Avenue and Valmont Street, the local neighborhood council shot back with an impact statement stating that the placement was inappropriate.

The designated area is adjacent to Bolton Hall, a historic stone building built in 1913 that was originally used as a community center for a local Utopian community. It has since been used as an American Legion hall, a public library, Tujunga City Hall and a jail, and is now a local history museum.

“It’s the location, that is what people are opposed to,” said Liliana Sanchez, president of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council.

“It’s the historical significance of that intersection. No signage should be placed there,” she added.

It also happens to be an intersection that has hosted several Armenian cultural events, according to L.A. City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who spearheaded the initiative.

A dedication ceremony for the square to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is scheduled for Oct. 19, to coincide with the annual Sunland-Tujunga Armenian Cultural Festival, which is held along Commerce Avenue.

“It’s unfortunate that more people aren’t taking this opportunity to embrace the diversity of our community,” said Rodriguez, who represents the Tujunga area, along with neighborhoods including La Tuna Canyon, Sylmar, Pacoima and North Hills.

One longtime local resident, Robin Jodi, said she also opposed the dedication because Saroyan, who was born and died in Fresno, does not have a local connection to the area.

It was a sentiment echoed by others in their written public comments.

Bolton Hall was named after an Ireland-born author and activist who also had no connection to the immediate area, Rodriguez said.

“[Saroyan] is a true Californian, the son of immigrants and an inspiration to us all,” Vic Aghakhanian, another longtime resident, wrote in a public comment.

“I believe it is time for our community to embrace multiculturalism and appreciation of our diversity,” he added.

“It’s a welcoming community. It’s a diverse community,” Jodi said in a phone interview, “but [Saroyan] never visited here. He has nothing to do with here.”

A similar debate unfolded in Glendale last year, when the local City Council voted in June to change a two-block portion of Maryland Avenue in the city’s downtown area to Artsakh Street, after the Republic of Artsakh, a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Some opponents of the name change said the republic had nothing to do with Glendale’s history. Several business owners argued that the renaming could hurt them economically.

Supporters, including then-Councilman Ara Najarian and current mayor, argued that it was long overdue for Glendale to have a street named to honor the city’s large Armenian American community.

In October of last year, a ceremony was held to unveil the new street sign.

However, the controversy hasn’t stopped: a cartoon published on Oct. 4 by the Glendale News-Press that juxtaposed the Artsakh Street sign with a character lamenting, “I miss the old Maryland Avenue,” drew backlash from some readers who viewed it as implicitly or explicitly xenophobic.

Others viewed the cartoon as nostalgic, hearkening back to a time when there were different businesses along the street. Reminiscence, not ethnic discrimination, was the intent, according to the cartoon’s creator Bert Ring.

Sanchez and Jodi both said they felt community input about the William Saroyan Square dedication was limited.

An Oct. 8 Facebook post by Sanchez on a community group stating that the motion had passed and the “public was not allowed to comment” drew more than 374 comments.

“We weren’t given a voice,” Sanchez said.

Members of the public were given the opportunity to submit written comments after the motion was introduced on Sept. 11, Rodriguez said. Residents were also allowed to speak when the item was considered during a public works meeting on Sept. 18.

It’s the same procedure Rodriguez said she has followed for the three other dedications she’s initiated within her district.

Sanchez said she took issue with the fact that additional oral comments were not permitted during the regular L.A. City Council meeting when the dedication was approved unanimously.

By the time the motion was voted on, about 240 public comments had been submitted — more than any other issue the council has worked on during Rodriguez’s two-year tenure, as far as she can remember. The majority were in support of the dedication, she said.

“Among all the issues that I’m working on, homelessness and everything else, [additional community meetings] would be excessive,” Rodriguez said.


William Saroyan - History

Images from the New Acquisitions:

The Heritage Center holds one of the major institutional collections of materials documenting the career of Fresno-born author William Saroyan (1908-1981), consisting of approximately 3,000 items. Copies of Saroyan's separately-published work (books, pamphlets, broadsides, and plays) can be found in the collection. Also present are original Saroyan letters and manuscripts Saroyan appearances in anthologies and magazines articles and books about Saroyan various types of ephemera related to Saroyan (clippings, play programs, promotional items, etc.) and sound/video items (records, cassettes, sheet music, videorecordings, etc.).

There is a catalogue of the Heritage Center's Saroyan holdings available for in-library use. Some of the items are also described in the Library's main catalog.

Other Saroyan collections :

William Saroyan Foundation: Most important among Saroyan collections, now housed at the Stanford University Library. A finding aid is available at the Online Archive of California.

Henry Madden Library, at CSU Fresno

The George Jean Nathan collection at Cornell University has some Saroyan correspondence.

The Conference Press Records at UCLA have materials relating to Saroyan's book, Three Times Three.

Other resources :


2420 Mariposa Street, Fresno, California 93721. (559) 600-READ (7323)
Last updated May 12, 2021 . Copyright © 1997-2020. Fresno County Public Library. County of Fresno.


William Saroyan founded the William Saroyan Foundation as Steward of his Legacy

On December 30, 1966, William Saroyan founded the William Saroyan Foundation. The initial signatories to the Articles of Incorporation and subsequent officers and directors were William Saroyan, his brother Henry, and sister Cosette.

The Foundation’s first order of business was the following resolution:

“By unanimous vote, [the] Deed of Trust was accepted from William Saroyan of a manuscript of ‘The Time of Your Life’ and of sixteen short stories, to be made available for literary and educational use by the public.”

2016 marked the Foundation’s 60th year.

When Saroyan died in 1981, he bequeathed his vast literary estate to the Foundation, and bestowed leadership of the Foundation to Robert Setrakian, a close friend of many years and the executor of Saroyan’s will. Under Mr. Setrakian’s guidance, the Foundation organized and compiled Saroyan’s work – a major undertaking that required collecting, collating, and codifying published and unpublished works in Paris, San Francisco, Fresno, Berkeley, and Malibu.

For the next 15 years, the Foundation managed the literary estate itself and in so doing, negotiated over 600 permission grants and publications of Mr. Saroyan’s novels, short stories, plays, musicals, songs, and opera in book form as well as for production on stage, screen, radio, and television. Saroyan’s work is enjoyed and produced in scores of countries around the world. Mr. Setrakian also edited and published Mr. Saroyan’s last manuscript, Where the Bones Go.

The Foundation brought together a wide variety of leaders in the arts, education and business onto its Board of Trustees, including: Dickran Kouymjian, professor, Fresno State University Dr. Harold Haak, president, California State University, Fresno William Abrahams, author, executor of the Lillian Hellman Estate James D. Hart, Executive Director, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley Daniel Dibert, attorney Andrew Jameson, former Vice Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley Leon S. Peters, business executive and Anthony M. Frank, United States Postmaster General, Retired.

In 1997, the Board decided that Mr. Saroyan’s expressed interests regarding the stewardship of his literary estate were best served by bringing the entire collection of written works – published and unpublished, stories, essays, autobiography, diaries, novels, plays, letters – together in one place, to make the entire collection accessible to biographers, scholars, researchers, and students. After consultation with and consideration of a wide variety of alternatives, the Board ultimately placed all of Saroyan’s literary papers in Special Collections at Stanford University Libraries, now designated the William Saroyan Archive. Stanford has done an outstanding job protecting, supporting, and advancing Saroyan’s literary legacy.


S.F. gathering celebrates Saroyan's centennial

1 of 6 FILE--Writer William Saroyan poses in this May 2, 1941 file photo. The ashes of Saroyan were laid to rest 20 years after his death, in Fresno, Calif., March 3, 2002. Half of Saroyan's ashes were sent to Armenia after he died at age 72 May 18, 1981, and the other half had been sitting in obscurity on a Fresno chapel's shelf. (AP Photo/File) AP Show More Show Less

2 of 6 Undated file photograph of Pulitzer Prize winning author William Saroyan. Saroyan who was one of the most respected authors in the world winning a Pulitzer, an Oscar and dozens of writing awards while telling stories about his youth living in Fresno. Associated Press/AP Show More Show Less

4 of 6 1933 portrait of William Saroyan who was one of the most respected authors in the world winning, a pulitzer, oscar and dozens of writing awards while telling stories about his youth livinig in Fresno. Fresno Metropolitan Museum/Courtesy to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

5 of 6 SAROYAN-01JUN1979-UNKNOWN - William Saroyan (left) and Herbert Gold with Gold's twin sons. Ran on: 01-01-2008 William Saroyan (left) and Herbert Gold with Gold's children. Saroyan fans will celebrate his centennial this year. Chronicle File/SFC Show More Show Less

The admirers of William Saroyan, a writer who was bigger than life, are throwing a birthday party in San Francisco tonight to celebrate the centennial of his birth.

Saroyan was born and died in Fresno, the place closest to his heart. He also lived in Paris, New York and Malibu, but did some of his best work in San Francisco.

He wrote short stories and plays, dashing them off effortlessly as if he were blowing bubbles. Saroyan also learned to draw and to paint.

His paintings were a lesser known part of his creative drive. Tonight's party will showcase 125 Saroyan paintings and drawings never seen in public before.

Though his roots were in Fresno, his talents boiled up like a cauldron in San Francisco, especially in the grim years of the Depression.

Saroyan's first published success, a short story called "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," was written in a flat at 348 Carl St. overlooking Golden Gate Park, where he lived with his mother, brother and sister.

His masterpiece, "The Time of Your Life," is a play set in a San Francisco waterfront saloon.

Saroyan rode the N-Judah streetcar downtown to the public library to read books he couldn't afford to buy. He was a starving author the family was barely able to pay the gas bill or the rent. He got a 15-cent haircut at the barber college next to the old Skid Road at Third and Howard streets, and he wrote about it he thought about life in the San Joaquin Valley, and he wrote about it while shivering in the Sunset District fog.

Later, when he was starting to make good money, he bought his family a house on 15th Avenue with a view of the ocean.

"The Daring Young Man" got him noticed by the New York literary critics, particularly Bennett Cerf, and after he sold his first story - for $15 - his career took off like a rocket he was like a meteor flashing across the literary sky.

His first big story was published in 1934, and only five years later, three of his plays were on Broadway at the same time.

"The Time of Your Life" won the Pulitzer Prize, but he turned it down, he said, on the grounds that commerce has nothing to do with art. He won an Academy Award in 1943 for the original story of "The Human Comedy." When his career and his luck turned downward, Saroyan sold the Oscar, and it ended up in the window of a Mission Street pawn shop.

When the going was good, he had the time of his life in San Francisco, roaring around the best bars and restaurants, prowling the Tenderloin trying to pick up dialogue.

He was a friend of Herb Caen, the columnist, and Barnaby Conrad, the bullfighter. He was "a charmingly noisy part" of the San Francisco of the time, Caen wrote, "laughing at the human comedy he created."

"He was very much a San Franciscan," said Haig Mardikian, executive director of the William Saroyan Foundation. "I am of Frisco," Saroyan said once, ". the foghorns, the ocean, the hills, the sand dunes, the melancholy of the place. I love this city and its ugliness is lovely to me."

Another time he said: "San Francisco itself is an art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel."

Caen thought that view of San Francisco was part of a kind of puppy love for the city San Francisco changed, and so did Saroyan. Always brash and loud, Saroyan had family troubles, drinking problems and a disastrous penchant for gambling.


June 13, 2017 | by Marc A. Mamigonian

I have seen them carved in stone monuments, lit up on the big screen in The Promise , framed and hung on the wall outside my own office. Practically every Armenian knows them, and probably quite a few know them by heart &mdash these, the most famous words of William Saroyan:

I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.

These words resonate with Armenians everywhere, and not only Armenians. They have been quoted on the floor in Congress. David Mamet uses them as an epigraph in his book The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews . They speak of deep yearnings and fond hopes &mdash for the immortality of the Armenian spirit and the Armenian nation.

There is only one problem. These aren&rsquot the words William Saroyan wrote.[1]

The original passage, if you care to read it, comes in the last two paragraphs of &ldquoThe Armenian and the Armenian,&rdquo the final piece in Saroyan&rsquos second book, Inhale & Exhale (1936).[2]

I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose history is ended, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard, whose prayers are no longer uttered.

Go ahead, destroy this race. Let us say that it is again 1915. There is war in the world. Destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their houses and their churches. See if they will not live again. See if they will not laugh again. See if the race will not live again when two of them meet in a beer parlor, twenty years after, and laugh, and speak in their tongue. Go ahead, see if you can do anything about it. See if you can stop them from mocking the big ideas of the world, you sons of bitches, a couple of Armenians talking in the world, go ahead and try to destroy them.

The first thing to notice here is the absence of the climactic phrase &ldquosee if they will not create a New Armenia.&rdquo These are words that Saroyan never wrote or uttered. The famous version does not merely sanitize the original passage for family ears or compress it for space: it substantially rewrites Saroyan to include new phrases and concepts. And now the pseudo-Saroyan version has effectively displaced the genuine article. How did this come about?

One would have to trace the matter back to the enduring success of the posters that feature the quotation and an image of Saroyan, most particularly the 1982 poster copyrighted by WizMen Productions and created by Zaven Khanjian and designer Mher Tavitian. It does not help, of course, that Inhale & Exhale has been out of print since the 1930s. But Saroyan himself was recorded reading &ldquoThe Armenian and the Armenian&rdquo for the 1973 three-LP collection Here&rsquos William Saroyan Reading His Own Stuff and Talking , so it&rsquos not as if the original words had become inaccessible. Had they been inaccessible, they would not have been remembered at all.

mv2.png/v1/fill/w_184,h_130,al_c,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01,blur_2/Screen%20Shot%202019-01-23%20at%202_43_31%20PM.png" />

Khanjian, to his credit, has explained at considerable length the history of this poster, trying to set the record straight in articles published in Armenian newspapers.[3] Despite his efforts, the record is still more than a little bit crooked.

According to Khanjian, he first saw the &ldquoquotation&rdquo in early 1982 on a poster (above left) evidently created by one Peter Nakashian. Using the same words, which he assumed were correct, Khanjian had a new poster (above right) designed by Mher Tavitian, and in the years ahead the poster enjoyed great popularity. Certainly many copies were sold out of the bookstore of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).[4]Though it is no longer available, people still ask for it.

William Saroyan, having died in 1981, was not available to offer a correction to Nakashian or Khanjian. Eventually the William Saroyan Society contacted Khanjian, but they were not concerned about the unauthorized alteration of Saroyan&rsquos words. They were concerned about rights &mdash and suggested to him that he cease and desist or share the profits. He ceased and desisted.

mv2.png/v1/fill/w_182,h_138,al_c,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01,blur_2/Screen%20Shot%202019-01-23%20at%202_45_26%20PM.png" />

Eventually, the Saroyan Society issued its own poster, citing the ostensible source, Inhale & Exhale , and appending an Armenian translation by Dr. Arra S. Avakian, even though &ldquoThe Armenian and the Armenian&rdquo had already been translated into Armenian as early as 1940 by Samuel Toumayan and published in Lebanon. Incredibly, given its mission to promote Saroyan&rsquos works and educate the public, the Saroyan Society used the altered quotation yet again &ndash the work not of the late William Saroyan but of an unknown and self-appointed collaborator &ndash and the Armenian translation, right down to nor Hayastan , is based on the concocted text.

To date, I have never seen the actual passage from Inhale & Exhale quoted on a poster, and you will look long and hard before you find it correctly quoted anywhere. I have seen the fake one on plenty of posters, not to mention wall plaques, t-shirts, and what other retail items heaven only knows. Zaven Khanjian, in his assessment of the legacy of the posters, takes the sanguine view that no harm has been done and the spirit of Saroyan&rsquos idea has not been compromised. &ldquoWhereas it was indisputably wrong to tweak Saroyan&rsquos original text, it was done only with the intention of making it even more powerful,&rdquo he argues. To my eyes, the rewritten text is not more powerful, only (in a very narrow sense) more palatable. It is certainly less interesting. Whether it&rsquos in the spirit of what Saroyan wrote is debatable.

I cannot defend this kind of bowdlerization, even if it was done with the best of intentions. Quietly deleting &ldquoyou sons of bitches&rdquo in order to create a family-friendly poster &mdash well, okay. But it took a lot of chutzpah for somebody to look at Saroyan&rsquos published text and see it as a rough draft that he or she had license to work over. &ldquoSee if they will not pray again&rdquo: an entirely new concept introduced by Saroyan&rsquos uncredited co-author! Quite a far cry from the earthiness of two Armenians meeting in a beer parlor and cursing. Speaking of prayers, in the original they are &ldquono longer uttered,&rdquo while in the rewrite they are &ldquono longer answered&rdquo&mdash as if the tragically significant idea that post-genocide Armenians no longer bother praying was too shocking and had to be reversed.

And what a difference between the sentimental nationalism of &ldquoFor when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia,&rdquo on one hand, and &ldquoSee if you can stop them from mocking the big ideas of the world, you sons of bitches, a couple of Armenians talking in the world, go ahead and try to destroy them,&rdquo on the other. C. K. Garabed calls the &ldquoNew Armenia&rdquo sentence &ldquocompletely gratuitous,&rdquo and I agree. Yet most people who today are aware of William Saroyan, the most famous of Armenian-American writers, know that ersatz sentence and nothing else he ever wrote. This is the fate of a man who turned down the Pulitzer Prize because he felt commerce shouldn&rsquot judge art. Ironists please take note.

It gets worse. Close to the beginning of this great story that nobody bothers to read, Saroyan writes, &ldquoThere are only Armenians, and these inhabit the earth, not Armenia, since there is no Armenia, gentlemen, there is no America and there is no England, and no France, and no Italy, there is only the earth, gentlemen.&rdquo I&rsquom not sure that would make a best-selling poster to hang in every Armenian home but while Saroyan was indeed a proud Armenian, he was also a proud contrarian.

&ldquoThe Armenian and the Armenian&rdquo is short &mdash under two pages, it is placed carefully at the end of Inhale & Exhale , the last of the collection&rsquos 71 pieces. A lot is packed into those two pages. Like most of Saroyan&rsquos best work it is filled with humor, vitality, contradictions. As in other writings, he seems to say: Being Armenian is different and no better than being anything else, but it is also the best thing in the world. He is saying: There is no Armenia, if there ever was such a place it was destroyed, but you can&rsquot destroy Armenians. This is no more or less than he says in his great story &ldquoSeventy Thousand Assyrians&rdquo in his first book, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze , describing the Assyrian barber Theodore Badal as &ldquohimself seventy thousand Assyrians and seventy million Assyrians, himself Assyria, and man standing in a barber&rsquos shop, in San Francisco, in 1933, and being, still, himself, the whole race.&rdquo The third-to-last paragraph of &ldquoThe Armenian and the Armenian,&rdquo the one right before the notorious passage, is also worth quoting, with its almost Whitmanesque catalog:

And the Armenian gestures, meaning so much. The slapping of the knee and roaring with laughter. The cursing. The subtle mockery of the world and its big ideas. The word in Armenian, the glance, the gesture, the smile, and through those things the swift rebirth of the race, timeless and again strong, though years have passed, though cities have been destroyed, fathers and brothers and sons killed, places forgotten, dreams violated, living hearts blackened with hate.

In other words, a more subtle version of &ldquowhen two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia&rdquo? Not quite. Saroyan embraced Whitman&rsquos line from Leaves of Grass , &ldquoDo I contradict myself? / Very well, then, I contradict myself, / I am large, I contain multitudes,&rdquo and made a pretty good career out it. The Saroyan who writes in &ldquoAntranik of Armenia&rdquo (also included in Inhale & Exhale ), &ldquoArmenia. There is no nation there, but that is all the better.&hellipWhat difference does it make what the nation is or what political theory governs it?&rdquo is the same Saroyan who delights in hearing that the countryman he encounters, thousands of miles from home, in a beer parlor in Rostov, is from Moush. &ldquoMoush. I love that city,&rdquo he writes. &ldquoI can love a place I have never seen, a place that no longer exists, whose inhabitants have been killed. It is the city my father sometimes visited as a young man.&rdquo At times Saroyan elevates the Armenian nation at other times he sounds like Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses who scoffs at the idea that he might be important because he belongs to the Irish nation, stating that, on the contrary, &ldquoI suspect that Ireland must be important because it belongs to me.&rdquo

So, we can cozy up to the Saroyan who sounds like a worldly post-nationalist, a man beyond the nation state, a citizen of the world. Or we can embrace Saroyan the Armenian patriot who celebrates the Armenian nation and longs for its revival. And in both instances we&rsquoll be dead wrong. And, also, partly correct. Strip Saroyan of his contradictions and he&rsquos no longer Saroyan, and no longer worth our time. I think you either embrace Saroyan in all his contradictions &mdash his greatness and his mediocrity, his love of people and his misanthropy, his ethnicity and his cosmopolitanism, his art-for-art&rsquos-sake integrity and his pursuit of commercial success, his self-destructible individualism, his Christian anarchy (in the words of James Agee) &mdash or you don&rsquot. Unfortunately, for the most part, it appears that people don&rsquot.

&ldquoFacts are stubborn things,&rdquo John Adams once said. (At least, I think he said it.) But perhaps even more stubborn than facts are myths. The trumped up Saroyan &ldquoquotation&rdquo is a myth &mdash both in the sense of &ldquoa popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone&rdquo and &ldquoan unfounded or false notion.&rdquo It is obvious that it expresses something Armenians want or need to believe, and perhaps in a way that the original might not. Sometimes, sadly, the big ideas of the world get the last word. When that happens the least we can do is consider for a moment what has been lost.[5]

[1] I want to make it clear that I am neither the first person to notice this nor to write about it. (And, let&rsquos face it, I probably won&rsquot be the last.) For example, in the August 8, 2009, edition of the Armenian Weekly , C.K. Garabed penned a piece entitled &ldquoMincing Words&rdquo that presented all of the variants of the &ldquoquotation&rdquo that were known to him, without, as he wrote, &ldquothe intent to be critical.&rdquo

[2] It also appears in the following collections: 31 Selected Stories from Inhale & Exhale (1943), The Saroyan Special (1948, reprinted in 1970), and most recently in He Flies Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease: A William Saroyan Reader (2008).

[3] See &ldquoHow I Came to Know Saroyan: The Story of a Poster,&rdquo Armenian Reporter , Nov. 1, 2008, and "Saroyeanê yev Yes," Asbarez , Aug. 13, 2008.

[4] NAASR is where I work. I am its Director of Academic Affairs.

[5] My thanks to Dickran Kouymjian for sharing his thoughts and recollections regarding the Saroyan posters and his many insights about Saroyan&rsquos work to Vartan Matiossian for his assistance and to Zaven Khanjian for responding to my queries.

Marc A. Mamigonian has worked at NAASR since 1998 and has served as its Director of Academic Affairs since 2009. Mamigonian is the editor of the book The Armenians of New England and the Journal of Armenian Studies , and is the co-author of annotated editions of James Joyce&rsquos A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses .


Analysis of William Saroyan’s Stories

Although William Saroyan ( August 31, 1908 – May 18, 1981) cultivated his prose to evoke the effect of a “tradition of carelessness,” of effortless and sometimes apparently formless ruminations and evocations, he was in reality an accomplished and conscious stylist whose influences are varied and whose total effect is far more subtle than the seemingly “breezy” surface might at first suggest. His concern for the lonely and poor—ethnic outsiders, barflies, working girls, children—and their need for love and connectedness in the face of real privation recalls Sherwood Anderson. All of Saroyan’s best work was drawn from his own life (although the central character must be regarded as a persona, no matter how apparently connected to the author). In this aspect, and in his powerful and economical capacity to evoke locale and mood, Saroyan is in the tradition of Thomas Wolfe. The empathetic controlling consciousness and adventurous experiments with “formless form” also place Saroyan in the tradition that includes Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein. It might also be noted that Saroyan’s work shows the influence of Anton Chekhov in his use of seemingly “plotless” situations which nevertheless reveal some essential moment in the characters’ lives and philosophical insight into the human condition.

Certainly, while the tone of Saroyan’s stories evolves from the comic to the stoical to the sadly elegiac mood of his later work, his ethos stands counter to the naturalists and the ideologically programmatic writers of the 1930’s, the period during which he produced some of his best work. Often his stories portray the world from the perspective of children, whose instinctual embrace of life echoes the author’s philosophy. Saroyan wrote, “If you will remember that living people are as good as dead, you will be able to perceive much that is very funny in their conduct that you might never have thought of perceiving if you did not believe that they were as good as dead.” Both the tone and outlook of that statement are paradigmatic.

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

The title story of his first and most enduring collection, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” is still one of the most ambitious stylistic exercises of the Saroyan canon and an embodiment of the first phase of his career. The impressionistic style uses a welter of literary allusions in a stream-of-consciousness technique to portray the inner mind of an educated but destitute writer during the Depression who is literally starving to death as his mind remains lucid and aggressively inquiring. The poignant contrast between the failing body and the illuminated mind might evoke pity and compassion on the part of the reader, but somehow Saroyan invokes respect and acceptance as well.

The story begins with the random associated thoughts of the half-dreaming writer which reveal both the chaos of the present era—“hush the queen, the king, Karl Franz, black Titanic, Mr. Chaplin weeping, Stalin, Hitler, a multitude of Jews . . .”— and the young protagonist’s literary erudition: “Flaubert and Guy de Maupassant, a wordless rhyme of early meaning, Finlandia, mathematics highly polished and slick as green onions to the teeth, Jerusalem, the path to paradox.”

Upon awakening, the writer plunges into “the trivial truth of reality.” He is starving, and there is no work. He ironically contemplates starvation as he combines the food in a restaurant into a mental still life yet without a shred of self-pity, and with great dignity in spite of a clerk’s philistine and patronizing attitude, he attempts to obtain a job at an employment agency where the only skill which the writer can offer to a pragmatic world is the ability to type. He is relieved when there is no work because he can now devote his remaining energies to writing a literary last will and testament, an “Apology for Permission to Live.”

The writer drinks copious amounts of water to fill his empty belly, steals some writing paper from the Y.M.C.A., and repairs to his empty apartment to compose his manifesto. Before beginning to write, he polishes his last remaining coin—a penny (he has sold his books for food, an act of which he feels ashamed)—and savors the “absurd act.” As he contemplates the words on the coin which boast of unity, trust in God, and liberty, he becomes drowsy, and he takes final leave of the world with an inner act of grace and dignity reminiscent of the daring young man of the title. His last conscious act of thought is the notion that he ought to have given the coin to a child.

A child could buy any number of things with a penny. Then swiftly, neatly, with the grace of the young man on the trapeze he was gone from his body. . . . The city burned. The herded crowd rioted. The earth circled away, and knowing that he did so, he turned his lost face to the empty sky and became dreamless, unalive, perfect.

The story embodies Saroyan’s control of his materials and the sensitive and ironic understatement for which he is famous. Although the stories written during the Depression express bitterness about the situation, Saroyan eschews political solutions of any particular stripe and emphasizes the dignity of the individual and his tenacious connection to the forces of life and survival with grace and good humor.

My Name Is Aram

A second collection which gained worldwide fame is the series of interconnected stories which form the book My Name is Aram. Told through the eyes of the title character, a young boy in the milieu of Armenian Fresno, the collection reveals the characteristics of the stories of the middle part of Saroyan’s career and foreshadows the direction taken in his later work. The reader sees childlike adults and children imbued with the burdens of adulthood. Throughout, the collection explores the often contradictory claims of emotional, poetic, and instinctive needs and the claims of reality. The author’s vision is dualistic. Some of the stories show a happy symbiosis between the poetic and the rational needs of his characters others portray the conflicting demands unresolved. Even in the latter case, however, his characters cheerfully accept their fate, not with a stoicism so much as with a recognition that such a condition is a necessity to life and does not preclude savoring the moments of beauty which occur even in the midst of squalor or hardship.

The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse

The first aspect of the mature and late phase of Saroyan’s writing is aptly illustrated by the story “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse.” Typical of Saroyan’s boyhood reminiscences, this tale concerns the seven-year-old Aram Garoghlanian and his slightly older cousin Mourad, who “borrow” a horse from their neighbor’s barn and keep him for months at an abandoned farm, enjoying clandestine early morning rides. The owner of the horse, John Byro, complains to the boys’ uncle Khosrove, a Saroyan eccentric who responds, “It’s no harm. What is the loss of a horse? Haven’t we all lost the homeland? What is this crying over a horse?” When the owner complains that he must walk, the uncle reminds him that he has two legs. When Byro laments that the horse had cost him sixty dollars, the uncle retorts, “I spit on money.” Byro’s loss of an agent to pull his surrey brings a roar of “Pay no attention to it!”

Uncle Khosrove’s attitude is typical of the charming impracticality of many of Saroyan’s characters. When the boys at last secretly return the animal, the farmer is merely thankful that it has been returned and makes no attempt to find out who had stolen it. He marvels that the horse is in better condition than when it had been stolen. The story charmingly resolves the conflicting demands of the poetic and the practical (in favor of the poetic).

Pomegranate Trees

“Pomegranate Trees” illustrates the darker and more elegiac side of the later Saroyan canon. Uncle Melik purchases some arid desert land which he intends to farm. The land is obviously impossible to render productive yet the uncle persists in tilling the soil, planting his crops, and beating back the encroaching cactus while holding little dialogues with Aram and the prairie dogs. He decides against all reason to produce pomegranate trees, since he associates the fruit with his Assyrian past, but the trees are stunted, and the fruit yield is merely enough to fill a few boxes. When the meager harvest fails to bring a high enough price to suit Melik, he has the fruit sent back to him at still more expense. For the uncle, the enterprise has nothing to do with agriculture. “It was all pure aesthetics. . . . My uncle just liked the idea of planting trees and watching them grow.”

The real world of unpaid bills intrudes, however, and the man loses the land. Three years later Aram and his uncle revisit the land which had given Melik such quixotic pleasure. The trees have died and the desert has reclaimed the land. “The place was exactly the way it had been all the years of the world.” Aram and his uncle walk around the dead orchard and drive back to town. “We didn’t say anything because there was such an awful lot to say, and no language to say it in.”

There is nominal defeat, yet the still wistfully remembered joy in attempting the impossible for its own sake is a counterweight to the sadness of the finality of the experience. Such a resonance is at the heart of Saroyan’s ethos, expressed in countless stories which have made him a popular favorite, and which are beginning to elicit a high critical acclaim as well.

Major Works
Children’s literature: Me, 1963 Horsey Gorsey and the Frog, 1968 The Circus, 1986.
Plays: My Heart’s in the Highlands, pr., pb. 1939 The Hungerers: A Short Play, pb. 1939, pr. 1945 The Time of Your Life, pr., pb. 1939 Love’s Old Sweet Song, pr., pb. 1940 Subway Circus, pb. 1940 The Beautiful People, pr. 1940, pb. 1941 The Great American Goof, pr. 1940, pb. 1942 The Ping-Pong Game, pb. 1940 (one act) Three Plays: My Heart’s in the Highlands, The Time of Your Life, Love’s Old Sweet Song, pb. 1940 Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning, pr., pb. 1941 Hello Out There, pr. 1941, pb. 1942 (one act) Jim Dandy, pr., pb. 1941 Three Plays: The Beautiful People, Sweeney in the Trees, Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning, pb. 1941 Razzle Dazzle, pb. 1942 (collection) Talking to You, pr., pb. 1942 Get Away Old Man, pr. 1943, pb. 1944 Sam Ego’s House, pr. 1947, pb. 1949 A Decent Birth, a Happy Funeral, pb. 1949 Don’t Go Away Mad, pr., pb. 1949 The Slaughter of the Innocents, pb. 1952, pr. 1957 The Cave Dwellers, pr. 1957, pb. 1958 Once Around the Block, pb. 1959 Sam the Highest Jumper of Them All: Or, The London Comedy, pr. 1960, pb. 1961 Settled Out of Court, pr. 1960, pb. 1962 The Dogs: Or, The Paris Comedy, and Two Other Plays, pb. 1969 An Armenian Trilogy, pb. 1986 (includes Armenians, Bitlis, and Haratch)Warsaw Visitor and Tales from the Vienna Streets: The Last Two Plays of William Saroyan, pb. 1991.
Novels: The Human Comedy, 1943 The Adventures of Wesley Jackson, 1946 Rock Wagram, 1951 Tracy’s Tiger, 1951 The Laughing Matter, 1953 (reprinted as The Secret Story, 1954) Mama I Love You, 1956 Papa You’re Crazy, 1957 Boys and Girls Together, 1963 One Day in the Afternoon of the World, 1964.
Miscellaneous: My Name Is Saroyan, 1983 (stories, verse, play fragments, and memoirs) The New Saroyan Reader, 1984 (Brian Darwent, editor).
Nonfiction: Harlem as Seen by Hirschfield, 1941 Hilltop Russians in San Francisco, 1941 Why Abstract?, 1945 (with Henry Miller and Hilaire Hiler) The Twin Adventures: The Adventures of William Saroyan, 1950 The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills, 1952 Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who, 1961 A Note on Hilaire Hiler, 1962 Not Dying, 1963 Short Drive, Sweet Chariot, 1966 Look at Us, 1967 I Used to Believe I Had Forever: Now I’m Not So Sure, 1968 Letters from 74 Rue Taitbout, 1969 Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon, 1970 Places Where I’ve Done Time, 1972 Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang in Forever, 1976 Chance Meetings, 1978 Obituaries, 1979 Births, 1983.
Screenplay: The Human Comedy, 1943.

Bibliography
Balakian, Nona. The World of William Saroyan. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1998.
Dyer, Brenda. “Stories About Stories: Teaching Narrative Using William Saroyan’s ‘My Grandmother Lucy Tells a Story Without a Beginning, a Middle, or an End.’” In Short Stories in the Classroom, edited by Carole L. Hamilton and Peter Kratzke. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999.
Floan, Howard R. William Saroyan. New York: Twayne, 1966.
Foster, Edward Halsey. William Saroyan: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1991.
Haslam, Gerald W. “William Saroyan and San Francisco: Emergence of a Genius (Self-Proclaimed).” In San Francisco in Fiction: Essays in a Regional Literature, edited by David Fine and Paul Skenazy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.
Keyishian, Harry, ed. Critical Essays on William Saroyan. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995.
Lee, Lawrence, and Barry Gifford. Saroyan: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1984.
Leggett, John. A Daring Young Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
May, Charles E., ed. Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition. 8 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2004.
Whitmore, Jon. William Saroyan: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.


The Personal Travels - Stuck to his own values and didn’t cave

Diana Der Hovanessian, a writer, poet, teacher and translator of Armenian poetry into English remembers admiring Saroyan’s ability to make it look “light and easy, poignant and funny, ethnic and so American all at the same time. He appeared in the grim 30’s and 40’s just when American writing needed him. And with Hemingway and Faulkner, he was one of the big three…”

Armine Iknadossian, Armenian Reporter, August 2, 2008

In 1958 Saroyan headed for Europe with no clear plan. He loved traveling from one country to another. While living in Paris he wrote several plays which were very popular in Eastern Europe, especially Czechoslovakia. Diana Der Hovanessian said his work translated very well. In many European countries he is taught as one of the most significant American writers.

Saroyan visited Armenia four times from 1935 to 1978 and found himself at ease not only with the established and emerging writers but with the “man on the street”. After his first trip he had this to say: “I’m no Armenian. I’m an American. Well, the truth is I am both and neither. I love Armenia and I love America and I belong to both, but I am only this an inhabitant of the earth, and so are you, whoever you are. I tried to forget Armenia but I couldn’t do it.” In a documentary about his life Saroyan said “My birthplace is California, but I can’t forget Armenia. I have always been an Armenian writer, only my writing is in English.”

Throughout the milestones in his life, Saroyan continued to write hundreds of pieces plays, books, essays, collections of stories and unbelievably he found time for art. He was an accomplished artist who created hundreds of drawings and paintings during his lifetime.

He said “The drawings and paintings were part of my writing, partly of my finding out about writing, and about how I would live my life and write my writing.”

Artwork by William Saroyan/WS Foundation


Seventy Thousand Assyrians – William Saroyan

I’m kicking off my Short Story Mondays (hosted by The Book Mine Set ) with a review of William Saroyan’s Seventy Thousand Assyrians. William Saroyan (1908-1981) was born, and raised in California, to Armenian immigrants.

In the opening paragraph of the story, he writes :

“I hadn’t had a haircut in forty days and forty nights, and I was beginning to look like several violinists out of work. You know the look: genius gone to pot, and ready to join the Communist Party. We barbarians from Asia Minor are hairy people: when we need a haircut, we need a haircut…(I am writing a very serious story, perhaps one of the most serious I shall ever write. That is why I am being flippant. Readers of Sherwood Anderson will begin to understand what I am saying after a while they will know that my laughter is rather sad.) …

With his self-deprecating humor, Saroyan hopes to take the edge of the tension he feels regarding the story he is about to write. He is apologetic he lets his guard down and takes us into his confidence. In the next paragraph, Saroyan manages to convey the conditions facing both an unemployed young adult and a struggling writer in 1930s California while at the same time giving us a taste of his obsession with Hemingway’s work.

“Outside, as Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises …) would say, haircuts were four bits… Iowa said, “I just got in from Salinas. No work in the lettuce fields. Going north now, to Portland …” I wanted to tell him how it was with me: rejected story from Scribner’s, rejected essay from The Yale Review, no money for decent cigarettes, worn shoes, old shirts, but I was afraid to make something of my own troubles. A writer’s troubles are always boring, a bit unreal. People are apt to feel, Well, who asked you to write in the first place? A man must pretend not to be a writer. I said, “Good luck, north”… Fine boy, hope he isn’t dead, hope he hasn’t frozen, mighty cold these days.”

For the following paragraph, he continues to fix his gaze on working-class folk and immigrants working around the Fresno area. But just like that, he changes his gaze and looks squarely at his role as an author. Now, one can feel the mood of the story changing, the easy-going tone is gone, foundations begin to give way:

“I am not out to win the Pulitzer Prize or the Nobel Prize or any other prize. I am out here in the far West, in San Francisco, in a small room on Carl Street, writing a letter to common people, telling them in simple language things they already know. I am merely making a record,… I see life as one life at one time, so many millions simultaneously, all over the earth.”

And then, feeling guilty about having “used all this language and beginning to feel that I have said nothing”, he rewrites the opening sentence, drops any pretense at being flippant and introduces us to Theodore Badal, the barber, of whom he asks: “Are you an Armenian?” And then the floodgates open, and all that he has bottled up about his people their habits, their trials and tribulations, how they are obsessed with figuring out how many Armenians there are in this world, come tumbling out. But Badal responds “I am an Assyrian”. What ensues is a conversation between the two about lost races, old worlds and countries. Badal says:

”We were a great people once,” he went on. “But that was yesterday, the day before yesterday. Now we are a topic in ancient history. We had a great civilization. … We’re washed up as a race, we’re through, it’s all over, why should I learn to read the language? We have no writers, we have no news- well, there is a little news: once in a while the English encourage the Arabs to massacre us, that is all. It’s an old story, we know all about it. The news comes over to us through the Associated Press, anyway.”

Saroyan has captured not just what Armenians feel about their old country but what most immigrants feel about their lost homes. This was written in 1933. But it holds true today – just substitute Facebook, or Twitter or New York Times for the Associated Press, if you prefer. Unlike the writer, Badal does not dream of an independent Assyrian state, there being only “seventy thousand Assyrians in the world”. A people who made a bad choice and took the wrong road:

“We didn’t go in for machinery and conquest and militarism. We didn’t go in for diplomacy and deceit and the invention of machine-guns and poison gases. Well, there is no use in being disappointed. We had our day, I suppose.”

These sentiments are incredibly personal and uttered publicly are also incredibly heavy and loaded. In Saroyan’s work, there is no distance between the writer and his audience, his community. No pretense. At the end of the story, he writes:

“I am thinking of Theodore Badal, himself seventy thousand Assyrians and seventy million Assyrians, himself Assyria, and man, standing in a barber shop, in San Francisco, in 1933, and being, still, himself, the whole race.”

Seventy Thousand Assyrians was written over 70 years ago and yet the issues raised are still valid today. Saroyan’s stories are timeless, intensely profound, funny and yes, explosive. I highly recommend this story.


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