William Saroyan

American author whose stories celebrated optimism in the middle of trials and difficulties of the Depression-era. Several of Saroyan's works were drawn from his own experiences, although his approach to autobiographical facts can be called poetic. 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 worked tirelessly to perfect a prose style, that was full of zest of for life and was seemingly impressionistic. The style became known as 'Saroyanesque.' William 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. Six years later the family reunited in Fresno, where Takoohi had obtained work in a cannery. In 1921 Saroyan attended the Technical School in order to learn to type. At the age of fifteen, Saroyan left the school. His mother had 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, and supporting himself by odd jobs. At the San Francisco Telegraph Company he worked as an office manager. A few of his early short articles were published in The Overland Monthly. His first collected stories started to appear in the 1930s. Among these was 'The Broken Wheel', which was written under the name Sirak Goryan. It was published in the Armenian journal Hairenik in 1933. As a writer Saroyan made his breakthrough in the Story magazine with 'The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze' (1934), after the popular song. The protagonist is a young, starving writer who tries to survive in a Depression-ridden society. "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." Saroyan's character has some connections to Knut Hamsun's penniless writer in his famous novel Hunger (1890), but without the anger and nihilism of Hamsun's narrator. The story was republished in Saroyan's bestselling collection, and with its royalties Saroyan financed his trip to Europe and Armenia, where he learned to love the taste of Russian cigarettes. He also developed a theory that "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) 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, Aram Garoghlanian, and the colorful characters of his immigrant family. It has been translated among others into Finnish. As a playwright Saroyan's work was drawn from deeply personal sources. He disregarded the conventional idea of conflict as essential to drama. MY HEART' 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. Among Saroyan's best known plays is THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE (1939), set in a waterfront saloon in San Francisco. It won a Pulitzer Prize. Saroyan refused the honor, on the grounds that commerce should not judge the arts, but accepted the New York Drama Critics Circle award. In 1948 the play was adapted into screen, starring James Gagney.
Roles: Author, Artist