William Saroyan was an internationally renowned Armenian-American writer, playwright and humanitarian. His fame, and his most enduring achievements as a writer, date from the 1930's. He dazzled, entertained and uplifted millions, with hundreds of short stories, plays, novels, memoirs and essays; they continue to charm and touch us today.
Saroyan's talent was first projected to the world through an Armenian-English newspaper, Hairenik of Boston. In 1934, at the age of 26, with the publication of his first book The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, William Saroyan became an overnight literary sensation. His first successful Broadway play was My Heart's in the Highlands, in 1939, and in the same year, Saroyan was the first American writer to win both The Drama Critic's Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize, for his play, The Time of Your Life. He refused to accept the Pulitzer Prize on the grounds that, "Commerce should not patronize art...," and he added, "it is no more great or good than anything else I have written."
Saroyan is unique among writers. He acknowledged the Armenian culture as an important source of literary inspiration, especially notable in the book-of-the-month choice, My Name Is Aram, in 1940. Another book-of-the-month choice, The Human Comedy, published in 1943, was dedicated to his mother and made into an MGM movie which won him an Academy Award Oscar, for Best Writing Original Screen Story.
In February 1943, 35 year old William Saroyan and 18 year old New York debutante, Carol Marcus, married in Dayton, Ohio. They were blessed with two children: Aram, born in 1944, and Lucy, born in 1946. Their first marriage ended after six years. Two years later, in 1951, Saroyan's remarriage to the same wife ended in divorce for the second and final time.
William Saroyan achieved great popularity through the thirties, forties and fifties. During his lifetime, he published over sixty books. His works have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have sold millions. To fully enjoy Saroyan, either in prose or on the stage, you have to be "with" him. This may require effort, but once you are with him, he can take you places you have never been before.
Saroyan writes humanely and powerfully, with restless enthusiasm. His major themes are aspiration, hope and honesty; materialism and success mean nothing. His works show the basic goodness of all people, especially the obscure and naive and the value of life. He once observed that he needed to write, "Because I hate to believe that I'm sick or half dead, because I want to get better; because writing is my therapy." In the last book published during his lifetime, Obituaries, he wrote: "My work is writing, but my real work is being."
Saroyan spoke for Armenians to the world. He gave international recognition to his people at a time when they remained dispersed and continued to meet with prejudice and outright hatred. Through his work, he brought more public understanding to the culture and the quality of the Armenian people, than any other person in Armenian history. By international standards, Saroyan is the most famous literary figure produced by his ancient people.
William Stonehill Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, on Monday, August 31, 1908. He was the 4th child of Armenian immigrants, Armenak Saroyan, preacher and poet, and his wife Takoohie, of Bitlis. On Monday, May 18, 1981, William Saroyan died of prostate cancer at the age of 72, about a mile from where he was born. "Everybody has got to die," he said, "but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?"
William Saroyan died, an artistic era ended. He loved America, but he could not forget Armenia. Saroyan wanted his heart in the Armenian highlands. A year after his death, half of his cremated remains were permanently enshrined in the Pantheon of Greats in Yerevan, Armenia, and the other half was buried later, in the Ararat cemetery in Fresno, California.
On May 22, 1991, William Saroyan was the first and only individual to be jointly honored by the USA/USSR Postal Services, on their Commemorative Stamps, as a symbol of the friendship between the two superpowers. First-day-issue ceremonies took place simultaneously in Fresno, California, and in Yerevan, Armenia.
The number of unpublished manuscripts left by William Saroyan, surpasses the massive bibliography of his published works. Since his death, from 1981 to 2003, 23 books have been published about his life and works.