William Saroyan

William Saroyan

Infobox Writer
name = William Saroyan

imagesize = 200px
caption = William Saroyan, 1940
pseudonym =
birthdate = August 31, 1908
birthplace = Fresno, California, USA
deathdate = May 18, 1981 (aged 72)
deathplace = Fresno, California, USA
occupation = Novelist, playwright, short story writer
nationality = United States
period = 1934-1980
genre =
subject =
movement =
influences =
influenced =

website =

William Saroyan (August 31, 1908 - May 18 1981) was an Armenian-American author. The setting of many of his stories and plays was Fresno, California, the center of Armenian-American life in California and where he grew up.

When "The Literary Digest" inquired about the pronunciation of his name, he replied "In Armenian it is "sor-row'yan", accent on "yan". In America, it is mispronounced with the accent on 'roy.'" [Charles Earle Funk, "What's the Name, Please?", Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.]


Early life

Saroyan was born in Fresno, California to Armenian immigrants from Bitlis, Turkey. His father, a small vineyard owner who had been educated as a Presbyterian minister, was eventually forced to take farm-laboring work. He moved to New Jersey in 1905 and died in 1911. At the age of four, William Saroyan was placed in the Fred Finch Orphanage in Oakland, California, together with his brother and sister, an experience he later described in his writing. Five years later, the family reunited in Fresno, where his mother, Takoohi, had obtained work in a cannery.

Saroyan learned to type in a technical school, which he left at the age of 15. He continued his education on his own, supporting himself by taking odd jobs, such as working as an office manager for the San Francisco Telegraph Company.

Saroyan decided to become a writer after his mother showed him some of his father's writings. A few of his early short articles were published in "The Overland Monthly". His first stories appeared in the 1930s. Among these was "The Broken Wheel", written under the name Sirak "Goryan" and published in the Armenian journal "Hairenik" in 1933. Many of Saroyan's stories were based on his childhood experiences among the Armenian-American fruit growers of the San Joaquin Valley, or dealt with the rootlessness of the immigrant. The short story collection "My Name is Aram" (1940), an international bestseller, was about a young boy and the colorful characters of his immigrant family. It has been translated into many languages.

As a writer Saroyan made his breakthrough in "Story" magazine with "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1934), the title taken from the 19th century song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze". The protagonist is a young, starving writer who tries to survive in a Depression-ridden society:

Saroyan served in the US Army during World War II. He was stationed in Astoria, Queens, spending much of his time at the Lombardy Hotel in Manhattan, far from Army personnel. In 1942, he was posted to London as part of a film unit. He narrowly avoided a court martial when his novel, "The Adventures of Wesley Jackson", was seen as advocating pacifism.

In 1943, Saroyan married Carol Marcus (1924-2003) who was 18 at the time; they had two children, Aram Saroyan and the late Lucy. By the late 40s, Saroyan's increasing drinking and gambling had taken a toll on his marriage, and he filed for divorce upon returning from an extended European trip. They remarried and divorced again. Carol subsequently married the actor Walter Matthau. During her early socialite years, Carol (Grace) Marcus relentlessly pursued the passion of falling in love, often falling for and discarding a new person every few months. She claimed that Saroyan was horribly abusive, in her autobiography, "Among the Porcupines: A Memoir". [Witchel, Alex [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE0DE143AF93AA25754C0A964958260 'The Real Holly Golightly'] "The New York Times", July 19, 1992.]

Daughter Lucy became an actress, and son Aram became a writer who published a book about his father [Saroyan, Aram. (1982). Last Rites: The Death of William Saroyan, William Morrow & Co. ISBN-13: 978-0688012625] .

Saroyan worked rapidly, hardly editing his text, and drinking and gambling away much of his earnings. From 1958 on, he mainly resided in a Paris apartment.

Saroyan published essays and memoirs, in which he depicted the people he had met on travels in the Soviet Union and Europe, such as the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and Charlie Chaplin. In 1952, Saroyan published, "The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills", the first of several volumes of memoirs.

In the late 1960s and the 1970s, Saroyan earned more money and finally got out of debt.


On Monday, May 18, 1981, Saroyan died in Fresno, California of prostate cancer at age 72. "Everybody has got to die," he had said, "but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case." Half of his ashes were buried in California, and the remainder in Armenia.


William Saroyan's stories celebrated optimism in the midst of the trials and tribulations of the Depression. Several of Saroyan's works were drawn from his own experiences, although his approach to autobiographical fact contained a fair bit of poetic license.

His advice to a young writer was: "Try to learn to breathe deeply; really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell." Saroyan endeavored to create a prose style full of zest for life and seemingly impressionistic, that came to be called "Saroyanesque".

In some respects, Saroyan's characters resemble the penniless writer in Knut Hamsun's 1890 novel "Hunger", but lack the anger and nihilism of Hamsun's narrator. The story was republished in a collection whose royalties enabled Saroyan to travel to Europe and Armenia, where he learned to love the taste of Russian cigarettes, once observing, "you may tend to get cancer from the thing that makes you want to smoke so much, not from the smoking itself." (from "Not Dying", 1963)

Saroyan's plays were drawn from deeply personal sources, and often disregarded the convention that conflict is essential to drama. "My Heart's in the Highlands" (1939), his first play, was a comedy about a young boy and his Armenian family. It was produced at the Guild Theatre in New York.

Saroyan is probably best remembered for his play "The Time of Your Life" (1939), set in a waterfront saloon in San Francisco. It won a Pulitzer Prize, which Saroyan refused on the grounds that commerce should not judge the arts; he did accept the New York Drama Critics' Circle award. The play was adapted into a 1948 film starring James Cagney.

Before the war, Saroyan worked on the screenplay of "Golden Boy" (1939), based on Clifford Odets's play, but he never had much success in Hollywood.

"The Human Comedy" (1943) is set in the fictional California town of Ithaca in the San Joaquin Valley (based on Saroyan's memories of Fresno, California), where young telegraph messenger Homer bears witness to the sorrows and joys of life during World War II.

Saroyan was hired to write the screenplay for and direct the film for MGM. When Louis B. Mayer balked at its length, Saroyan would not compromise and was removed from the project. He then turned the script into a novel, publishing it just prior to the film's release. This novel is often credited as the source for the movie when in fact the reverse is true. The novel is the basis for a 1983 musical of the same name.

Interest in Saroyan's novels declined after the war, when he was criticized for sentimentality. Freedom, brotherly love, and universal benevolence were for him basic values, but his idealism was considered out of step with the times. He still wrote prolifically, so that one of his readers could ask "How could you write so much good stuff and still write such bad stuff?"

In the novellas "The Assyrian and other stories" (1950) and in "The Laughing Matter" (1953) Saroyan mixed allegorical elements within a realistic novel. The plays "Sam Ego's House" (1949) and "The Slaughter of the Innocents" (1958) were not as successful as his prewar plays. Many of Saroyan's later plays, such as "The Paris Comedy" (1960), "The London Comedy"(1960), and "Settled Out of Court" (1969), premiered in Europe. Manuscripts of a number of unperformed plays are now at Stanford University with his other papers.

When Ernest Hemingway learned that Saroyan had made fun of the controversial novel "Death in the Afternoon", Hemingway responded: "We've seen them come and go. Good ones too. Better ones than you, Mr. Saroyan."


*"The writer is a spiritual anarchist, as in the depth of his soul every man is. He is discontented with everything and everybody. The writer is everybody's best friend and only true enemy - the good and great enemy. He neither walks with the multitude nor cheers with them. The writer who is a writer is a rebel who never stops." (from "The William Saroyan Reader", 1958)

*"Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might. When you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough."

*"Good people are good because they've come to wisdom through failure."


Warren Oakes, drummer for the folk-punk band Against Me, has two tattoos on his back, based on drawings Saroyan drew to illustrate two of his stories. Oakes talks about and displays these tattoos in an interview with tasteiTTV.com, available [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1002411195194136088 here.] Saroyan is his favorite author.

*Saroyan is referred to several times in Joseph Heller's novel Closing Time by Yossarian, who is revealed to have admired Saroyan and wanted to write like him.

*William DeForest Saroyan, great grand nephew to William Saroyan, was born on March 12, 2008 in San Francisco, California.


*"The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1934)
*"Inhale and Exhale" (1936)
*"LIttle Children" (1937)
*"The Trouble With Tigers" (1938)
*Love Here Is My Hat (1938)
*"My Name Is Aram" (1940)
*"The Human Comedy" (1943)
*"Tracy's Tiger" (1951)
*"The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse" (1938)
*"The Adventures of Wesley Jackson" (1946)
*"Rock Wagram" (1951)
*The Laughing Matter (1953)
*"Love" (1955)
*Mama I Love You (1956)
*Papa You're Crazy (1957)
*Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who (1962)
*"Gaston" (1962)
*"One Day in the Afternoon of the World" (1964)
*"Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon" (1970)
*"Places Where I've Done Time" 1972 (original printing possibly 1957)
*Chance Meetings (1978)
*"Obituaries" (1979)
*"Births" (1983)
*"My name is Saroyan" (1983)
*"An Armenian trilogy" (1986)
*"Madness in the family" (1988)
*"The Man With The Heart in the Highlands and other stories" (1968)


*"The Time of Your Life" (1939) - winner of the New York Drama Critics' Circle and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama
*" [http://www.ram.org/ramblings/plays/heart_highlands.html My Heart's in the Highlands] " (1939)
*"Elmer and Lily" (1939)
*"The Agony of Little Nations" (1940)
*"Hello Out There!" (1941)
*"Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning" (1941)
*"The Beautiful People" (1941)
*"Bad Men in the West" (1942)
*"Talking to You" (1942)
*"Coming Through the Rye" (1942)
*"Don't Go Away Mad" (1947)
*"The Slaughter of the Innocents" (1952)
*"The Oyster And The Pearl (Television Play)" (1953)
*"The Stolen Secret" (1954)
*"The Cave Dwellers" (1958)
*"Sam, The Highest Jumper Of Them All, or the London Comedy" (1960)
*"Hanging around the Wabash" (1961)
*"The Dogs, or the Paris Comedy" (1969)
*"Armenians" (1971)
*"Assassinations" (1974)
*"Tales from the Vienna Streets" (1980)
*"The Parsley Garden" (1992)

hort stories

*"Third day after Christmas" (1926)
*"Resurrection of a Life" (1935)
*"Gaston" (date unknown)
*"An Ornery Kind of Kid"
*"The Parsley Garden"
*"The Shepherd's Daughter"
*"The Hummingbird That Lived Through Winter"
*"The Mourner"
*"Three Ripe Pears"


*"Come On-a My House", a hit for Rosemary Clooney, based on an Armenian folk song, written with his cousin, Ross Bagdasarian, later the impresario of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

econdary literature

*Balakian, N., 1998. "The World of William Saroyan".
*Floan, H. R., 1966. "William Saroyan".
*Foster, E. H., 1984. "William Saroyan".
*--------, 1991. "William Saroyan: A Study in the Shorter Fiction".
*Gifford, Barry, and Lee, Lawrence, 1984. "Saroyan". (Paperback, 1998).
*Harmalian, Leo, ed., 1987. "William Saroyan".
*Keyishan, H., 1995. "Critical Essays in William Saroyan".
*Leggett, John, 2002. "A Daring Young Man: A Biography of William Saroyan".
*Linde, Mauricio D. Aguilera, 2002, "Saroyan and the Dream of Success: The American Vaudeville as a Political Weapon," 11.1 (Winter): 18-31.
*Samuelian, Varaz, 1985. "Willie & Varaz: Memories of My Friend William Saroyan".
*Saroyan, A., 1983. "William Saroyan".
*Whitmore, Jon, 1995. "William Saroyan".


External links

* [http://www.fresnobee.com/static/2008/features/wsflash/ Unpublished novella ("Follow")] on FresnoBee.com
* [http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/saroyan.htm Brief biography] at Kirjasto (Pegasos).
* [http://www.williamsaroyansociety.org/index.html The William Saroyan Society.]
* [http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=William_Saroyan William Saroyan article] on Armeniapedia.org.
* [http://www.parajanov.com/saroyan.html William Saroyan at Parajanov.com] I Saw The Mighty Armenia
* [http://www.cilicia.com/armo22_william_saroyan_5.html 'A good dose of Saroyan is what this world needs'] "The San Diego Union-Tribune", 6 April, 1998.
* [http://www.williamsaroyan.org/ William Saroyan Literary Foundation.]
* [http://www.electroasylum.com/saroyan/ William Saroyan Page.]
* Web site of the documentary film " [http://www.kalinian-saroyan.com/main.html William Saroyan : The Man, The Writer] ", by Paul and Susie Kalinian.
*imdb name|id=0765490|name=William Saroyan
* [http://www.fredfinch.org/ Fred Finch Youth Center]

NAME= Saroyan, William
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Novelist, playwright, short story writer
DATE OF BIRTH= August 31, 1908
PLACE OF BIRTH= Fresno, California, USA
DATE OF DEATH= May 18, 1981 (aged 72)
PLACE OF DEATH= Fresno, California, USA

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