William Saroyan (1908-1981)

American author whose impressionistic stories and sketches celebrated the joy of living in spite of poverty and insecurity during the Great Depression. Several of Saroyan's works were autobiographical. He found his strongest themes in the rootlessness of the immigrant, he praised freedom, and declared kindness and brotherly love as human ideals.

"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)
Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, as the son of an Armenian immigrant. His father moved to New Jersey in 1905 - he was a small vineyard owner, who had been educated as a Presbyterian minister. In the new country he was forced to take farm-labouring work. He died in 1911 from peritonitis after drinking a forbidden glass of water given by his wife, Takoohi. Saroyan was put in an orphanage in Alameda with his brothers, but six years later the family reunited in Fresno.

At the age of fifteen, Saroyan left the school. His mother showed him some of his fathers writings and he decided to become a writer. Saroyan continued his education by reading and writing on his own, working in several jobs and later as a journalist, living on his writing from 1920. The Overland Monthly published a few of his short articles. His first collected stories started to appear in the 1930s, among them 'The Broken Wheel', which was written under the name Sirak Goryan, and was published in the Armenian journal Hairenik

As a writer Saroyan made his breakthrough with THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (1934), a story of an impoverished young writer in a Depression-ridden society. It became a huge success, and was followed by a number of highly original novels. Many of them were based on his childhood, experiences among the Armenian-American fruit growers of the San Joaquin Valley or his struggles as a young writer in San Francisco. Saroyan worked tirelessly to perfect a prose style, that was swift and seemingly spontaneous, blended with his own ebullient spirit, which became known as 'Saroyanesque.'

As a playwright Saroyan's work was drawn from deeply personal sources, depicting the bittersweet loneliness of the foreign born American. He disregarded the conventional idea of conflict as essential to drama to create a theater of mood. Among Saroyans best known works is the play THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE (1939), which won a Pulitzer Prize but Saroyan refused it, on the grounds that commerce should not judge the arts. The short story collection MY NAME IS ARAM, a boy's view of the American Dream, appeared in 1940, and his film scenario, THE HUMAN COMEDY, was bought by MGM and made his financial situation more secure. Saroyan also published essays and memoirs, depicting the people he had met on travels in the Soviet Union and Europe, among them the playwright George Bernard Shaw and the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

During World War II Saroyan joined the US army. He was posted to London in 1942 as a part of a film unit and narrowly avoided a court martial, when his novel THE ADVENTURES OF WESLEY JACKSON (1946) turned out to be pacifist.

In 1943 Saroyan married the seventeen-years-old Carol Marcus. When she revealed that she was Jewish and illegitimate, Saroyan divorced. TheY remarried again and dicorced. Their son Aram becAme a poet and wrote a book about his father, and their daughter Lucy became an actress. Carol Marcus married later the actor Walter Matthau.

Saroyan's financial situation did not improve after WW II when interest in his novels declined and he was criticized for sentimentalism. In the title novella of THE ASSYRIAN, AND OTHER STORIES (1950) and in THE LAUGHING MATTER (1953) Saroyan experimented with allegorical effects within the framework of realistic novel.

In 1952 Saroyan published the first of several book-lenght memoirs, THE BICYCLE RIDER IN BEVERLY HILLS. He worked rapidly, hardly editing his text. From 1958 the author lived mainly in Paris. In the late 1960s and the 1970s he produced works that earned him substantial income, among them autobiographical scetchbooks. Saroyan died on May 18, 1981, in Fresno. Half of his ashes were buried in California, and the rest in Armenia