William Saroyan (/səˈrɔɪ.ən/; August 31, 1908 – May 18,
1981) was an Armenian-American novelist, playwright, and short story
writer. He was awarded the
Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1940, and in
1943 won the
Academy Award for Best Story for the film adaptation of
his novel The Human Comedy.
An Armenian American, Saroyan wrote extensively about the Armenian
immigrant life in California. Many of his stories and plays are set in
his native Fresno. Some of his best-known works are The Time of
My Name Is Aram
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" and by
Stephen Fry as "one of the most underrated writers of the [20th]
century." Fry suggests that "he takes his place naturally alongside
Steinbeck and Faulkner."
1.1 Early years
1.3 Personal life
3.3 Short stories
5 Further reading
6 External links
Saroyan as a youth
William Saroyan was born on August 31, 1908 in Fresno, California, to
Armenak and Taguhi Saroyan, Armenian immigrants from Bitlis, Ottoman
Empire. His father came to New York in 1905 and started preaching in
Armenian Apostolic churches.
At the age of three, after his father's death, Saroyan, along with his
brother and sister, was placed in an orphanage in Oakland, California.
He later went on to describe his experience in the orphanage in his
writings. Five years later, the family reunited in Fresno, where his
mother, Takoohi, had already secured work at a cannery. He continued
his education on his own, supporting himself with jobs, such as
working as an office manager for the San Francisco
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 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
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 nineteenth century song of the same title. The protagonist is a
young, starving writer who tries to survive in a Depression-ridden
Through the air on the flying trapeze, his mind hummed. Amusing it
was, astoundingly funny. A trapeze to God, or to nothing, a flying
trapeze to some sort of eternity; he prayed objectively for strength
to make the flight with grace.
This character resembles the penniless writer in Knut Hamsun's 1890
novel Hunger, but lacks 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 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
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.
I am an estranged man, said the liar: estranged from myself, from my
family, my fellow man, my country, my world, my time, and my culture.
I am not estranged from God, although I am a disbeliever in everything
about God excepting God indefinable, inside all and careless of all.
— from Here Comes There Goes You Know Who, 1961
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.
Saroyan in 1940
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".
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 and after his disappointment with the Human Comedy film
project, he never permitted any Hollywood screen adaptation of any of
his novels regardless of his financial straits.
The Human Comedy (1943) is set in the fictional California town of
Ithaca in the
San Joaquin Valley
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.
"Mrs. Sandoval," Homer said swiftly, "your son is dead. Maybe it's a
mistake. Maybe it wasn't your son. Maybe it was somebody else. The
telegram says it was Juan Domingo. But maybe the telegram is wrong...
— from The Human Comedy
Saroyan was hired to write the screenplay and direct the film for MGM.
Louis B. Mayer
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. He won the 1943
Academy Award for Best Story for the film. The 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.
Autographed portrait of Saroyan
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.
Hemingway learned that Saroyan had made fun of the
controversial non-fiction work Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway
responded: "We've seen them come and go. Good ones too. Better ones
than you, Mr. Saroyan."
In the late 1960s and the 1970s, Saroyan earned more money and finally
got out of debt.
Saroyan also painted. He said: "I made drawings before I learned
how to write. The impulse to do so seems basic – it is both the
invention and the use of language." His abstract expressionist
works were exhibited by the
Anita Shapolsky Gallery in New York
William Saroyan was inducted into the American Theater Hall
The statue of
William Saroyan in Yerevan, Armenia
Saroyan had a correspondence with writer
Sanora Babb that began in
1932 and ended in 1941, that grew into an unrequited love affair on
In 1943, Saroyan married actress Carol Marcus (1924–2003; also known
as Carol Grace), with whom he had two children, Aram, who became an
author and published a book about his father, and Lucy, who became an
actress. By the late 1940s, Saroyan's drinking and gambling took a
toll on his marriage, and in 1949, upon returning from an extended
European trip, he filed for divorce. They were remarried briefly in
1951 and divorced again in 1952 with Marcus later claiming in her
autobiography, Among the Porcupines: A Memoir, that Saroyan
Carol subsequently married actor Walter Matthau.
Saroyan died in Fresno, of prostate cancer at age 72. Half of his
ashes were buried in California and the remainder in
Armenia at the
Komitas Pantheon near fellow artists such as composer Aram
Khachaturian, painter Martiros Saryan, and film director Sergei
Parajanov-Vartanov Institute Award posthumously honored William
Saroyan for The Time of Your life play and the Human Comedy novel and
was presented to his granddaughter by Academy Award-winning Hollywood
actor Jon Voight.
William Saroyan's tomb at Yerevan's Komitas Pantheon
The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze
The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935)
Inhale and Exhale (1936)
Three Times Three (1936)
Little Children (1937)
The Trouble With Tigers (1938)
Peace, It's Wonderful (1939)
Love Here Is My Hat (1938)
My Name Is Aram
My Name Is Aram (1940)
The Human Comedy (1943)
Get Away Old Man (1944)
Dear Baby (1944)
The Adventures of Wesley Jackson (1946)
The Twin Adventures (1950) Saroyan's journal with reprint of Wesley
Rock Wagram (1951)
Tracy's Tiger (1952)
The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (1952)
The Laughing Matter (1953)
The Whole Voyald and Other Stories (1956)
Mama I Love You (1956)
Papa You're Crazy (1957)
Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who (1962)
"Gaston" (1962), short story collected in Madness...
Me: A Modern Masters Book for Children (1963), illustrated by Murray
Not Dying (1963)
One Day in the Afternoon of the World (1964)
Short Drive, Sweet Chariot (1966)
I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I'm Not So Sure (1968)
The Man with the Heart in the Highlands and other stories (1968)
Letters from 74 rue Taitbout (1971)
Places Where I've Done Time 1972 (original printing possibly
Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon (1973)
Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang In Forever (1976)
Chance Meetings (1978)
My name is Saroyan (1983)
Madness in the Family (1988), collected late stories
The Time of Your Life
The Time of Your Life (1939) – winner of the New York Drama Critics'
Circle and the
Pulitzer Prize for Drama
My Heart's in the Highlands (1939)
Elmer and Lily (1939)
Three plays (1940):
My Heart’s in the Highlands
The Time of Your Life
Love’s Old Sweet Song
Love's Old Sweet Song
The Agony of Little Nations (1940)
Subway Circus (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)
Jim Dandy (1947)
The Slaughter of the Innocents (1952)
The Oyster and the Pearl (Television Play) (1953)
The Stolen Secret (1954)
A Midsummer Daydream (Television Play) (1955)
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)
Tales from the Vienna Streets (1980)
An Armenian Trilogy (1986)
The Parsley Garden (1992)
"An Ornery Kind of Kid"
"The Filipino and the Drunkard"
"Gaston" (date unknown)
"The Hummingbird That Lived Through Winter"
"Knife-Like, Flower-Like, Like Nothing At All in the World" (1942)
"The Parsley Garden"
"Resurrection of a Life" (1935)
The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse (1938)
"Seventy Thousand Assyrians" (1934)
"The Shepherd's Daughter"
"Sweetheart Sweetheart Sweetheart"
"Third day after Christmas" (1926)
"Five Ripe Pears" (1935)
"Pomegranate Trees" (year unknown)
"Seventeen" (written during the Great Depression, in the collection of
The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze
The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories
"The Barber´s Uncle"
"Me" (The Saturday Evening Post, March 9, 1963, illustrated by Murray
"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.
^ "Relative to
William Saroyan Year". Official California Legislative
Information. March 13, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2014. Half of his
ashes were buried in the
Ararat Cemetery in
Fresno and the remaining
was interred in Yerevan, Armenia
^ Armenian: Վիլեամ Սարոյեան in classical orthography and
Վիլյամ Սարոյան in reformed orthography
William Saroyan Is Dead At 72; Wrote 'The Time of Your Life'". The
New York Times. May 19, 1981. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
^ "One-Man Show Tells Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author's Story".
Dickinson College. September 2, 2001. Retrieved December 26,
^ 13th Annual Beverly Hills Film Festival Announces Award Winners at
Gala Awards Ceremony. May 12, 2013. Retrieved May 3, 2017
^ Hamalian 1987, p. 23.
^ a b "William Saroyan".
Anita Shapolsky Gallery NYC.
^ Carl Nolte (September 4, 2008). "S.F. gathering celebrates Saroyan's
centennial; Living, working and carousing in San Francisco,
Fresno-born author chronicled the human comedy". SFGate.
^ "The Expressive Edge of Paper". The Huffington Post.
^ In Celebration of the Exhibition, The Writer as Artist: Lawrence
Ferlinghetti and William Saroyan. Anita Shapolsky Gallery, National
Arts Club (New York, N.Y.).
^ "The Writer's Brush; September 11th – October 27th, 2007". Anita
Shapolsky Gallery NYC. Archived from the original on February 1,
^ "Volume 19, Issues 6–8". Art & Auction Magazine. 1997.
^ "Theater Hall of Fame Enshrines 51 Artists". www.nytimes.com.
^ Balakian, Nona (1998). The World of
William Saroyan (2. print. ed.).
Lewisburg, [Pa.]: Bucknell University Press. pp. 273–275.
ISBN 978-0-8387-5368-2. I have never stopped thinking of you as
somebody rare and extraordinary and fine and wonderful and truly
^ Saroyan, Aram (1982). Last Rites: The Death of William Saroyan
(First ed.). New York: William Morrow & Co.
^ Matthau, Carol (1992). Among the Porcupines: A
Memoir (First ed.).
New York: Turtle Bay Books. ISBN 0-394-58266-7.
^ Alex Witchel (July 19, 1992). "The Real Holly Golightly". The New
York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2008.
^ "saroyan". February 9, 2017.
Parajanov-Vartanov Institute - Official site". Parajanov-Vartanov
Institute. Archived from the original on April 24, 2015.
^ "DOC LA — Los Angeles Documentary Film Festival — Hollywood".
DOC LA — Los Angeles Documentary Film Festival — Hollywood.
Parajanov-Vartanov Institute Awards (2013)".
^ "Me: A Modern Masters Book For Children: William Saroyan, Murray
Tinkelman: Amazon.com: Books". amazon.com.
^ Saroyan, William (1940). Love's Old Sweet Song: A Play in Three
Acts. Samuel French. p. 72. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
^ "Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series". google.com.
^ Severo, Richard (August 2, 2010). "Mitch Miller, Maestro of the
Singalong, Dies at 99" – via NYTimes.com.
Hamalian, Leo (1987). William Saroyan: the man and the writer
remembered. Rutherford, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University
Press. ISBN 9780838633083.
Saroyan: His Heart In The Highlands (2008)
Balakian, N., 1998. The World of William Saroyan.
Floan, H. R., 1966. William Saroyan.
Foster, E. H., 1984. William Saroyan.
Foster, E. H., 1991. William Saroyan: A Study in the Shorter Fiction.
Gifford, Barry, and Lee, Lawrence, 1984. Saroyan.
Hamalian, Leo, ed. (1987). William Saroyan: The Man and the Writer
Remembered. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
Keyishan, H., 1995. Critical Essays in William Saroyan.
Leggett, John, 2002. A Daring Young Man: A Biography of William
Linde, Mauricio D. Aguilera, 2002, "Saroyan and the Dream of Success:
The American Vaudeville as a Political Weapon," 11.1 (Winter):
Radavich, David. "War of the Wests: Saroyan's Dramatic Landscape."
American Drama 9:2 (Spring 2000): 29–49.
Samuelian, Varaz, 1985. Willie & Varaz: Memories of My Friend
Whitmore, Jon, 1995. William Saroyan.
Hunter, Pat; Stevens, Janice (2008). William Saroyan: Places in Time.
Fresno: Craven Street Books. ISBN 9781933502243.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: William Saroyan
Wikimedia Commons has media related to William Saroyan.
William Saroyan at the
Internet Broadway Database
Internet Broadway Database
William Saroyan on IMDb
Petri Liukkonen. "William Saroyan". Books and Writers
William Saroyan Society.
William Saroyan article on Armeniapedia.org.
William Saroyan at Parajanov.com I Saw The Mighty Armenia
William Saroyan Literary Foundation Intl.
Web site of the documentary film William Saroyan : The Man, The
Writer, by Paul and Susie Kalinian.
Fred Finch Youth Center
Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Authors
Jesse Lynch Williams (1918)
Eugene O'Neill (1920)
Zona Gale (1921)
Eugene O'Neill (1922)
Owen Davis (1923)
Hatcher Hughes (1924)
Sidney Howard (1925)
George Kelly (1926)
Paul Green (1927)
Eugene O'Neill (1928)
Elmer Rice (1929)
Marc Connelly (1930)
Susan Glaspell (1931)
George S. Kaufman,
Morrie Ryskind and
Ira Gershwin (1932)
Maxwell Anderson (1933)
Sidney Kingsley (1934)
Zoe Akins (1935)
Robert E. Sherwood
Robert E. Sherwood (1936)
Moss Hart and
George S. Kaufman
George S. Kaufman (1937)
Thornton Wilder (1938)
Robert E. Sherwood
Robert E. Sherwood (1939)
William Saroyan (1940)
Robert E. Sherwood
Robert E. Sherwood (1941)
Thornton Wilder (1943)
Mary Chase (1945)
Russel Crouse and
Howard Lindsay (1946)
Tennessee Williams (1948)
Arthur Miller (1949)
Oscar Hammerstein II
Oscar Hammerstein II and
Joshua Logan (1950)
Joseph Kramm (1952)
William Inge (1953)
John Patrick (1954)
Tennessee Williams (1955)
Albert Hackett and
Frances Goodrich (1956)
Eugene O'Neill (1957)
Ketti Frings (1958)
Archibald MacLeish (1959)
Jerome Weidman, George Abbott,
Jerry Bock and
Sheldon Harnick (1960)
Tad Mosel (1961)
Frank Loesser and
Abe Burrows (1962)
Frank D. Gilroy (1965)
Edward Albee (1967)
Howard Sackler (1969)
Charles Gordone (1970)
Paul Zindel (1971)
Jason Miller (1973)
Edward Albee (1975)
Michael Bennett, Nicholas Dante, James Kirkwood Jr., Marvin Hamlisch
Edward Kleban (1976)
Michael Cristofer (1977)
Donald L. Coburn (1978)
Sam Shepard (1979)
Lanford Wilson (1980)
Beth Henley (1981)
Charles Fuller (1982)
Marsha Norman (1983)
David Mamet (1984)
James Lapine and
Stephen Sondheim (1985)
August Wilson (1987)
Alfred Uhry (1988)
Wendy Wasserstein (1989)
August Wilson (1990)
Neil Simon (1991)
Robert Schenkkan (1992)
Tony Kushner (1993)
Edward Albee (1994)
Horton Foote (1995)
Jonathan Larson (1996)
Paula Vogel (1998)
Margaret Edson (1999)
Donald Margulies (2000)
David Auburn (2001)
Suzan-Lori Parks (2002)
Nilo Cruz (2003)
Doug Wright (2004)
John Patrick Shanley
John Patrick Shanley (2005)
David Lindsay-Abaire (2007)
Tracy Letts (2008)
Lynn Nottage (2009)
Tom Kitt and
Brian Yorkey (2010)
Bruce Norris (2011)
Quiara Alegría Hudes (2012)
Ayad Akhtar (2013)
Annie Baker (2014)
Stephen Adly Guirgis (2015)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (2016)
Lynn Nottage (2017)
Academy Award for Best Story
Ben Hecht (1927/28)
None given (1928/29)
None given (1929/30)
John Monk Saunders (1930/31)
Frances Marion (1931/32)
Robert Lord (1932/33)
Arthur Caesar (1934)
Charles MacArthur (1935)
Pierre Collings, Sheridan Gibney (1936)
Robert Carson, William Wellman (1937)
Dore Schary (1938)
Lewis R. Foster (1939)
Benjamin Glazer, John Toldy (1940)
Harry Segall (1941)
Emeric Pressburger (1942)
William Saroyan (1943)
Leo McCarey (1944)
Charles G. Booth (1945)
Clemence Dane (1946)
Valentine Davies (1947)
Richard Schweizer, David Wechsler (1948)
Edward Anhalt (1950)
Paul Dehn (1951)
Frank Cavett, Fredric M. Frank, Theodore St. John (1952)
Dalton Trumbo (1953)
Philip Yordan (1954)
Daniel Fuchs (1955)
Dalton Trumbo (1956)
ISNI: 0000 0001 2125 1480
BNF: cb119237180 (data)