William Saroyan was an Armenian dramatist and writer. He is recognized as “one of the most prominent literary figures of the mid-20th century Stephen Fry describes Saroyan as “one of the most underrated writers of the century.” Fry suggests that “he takes his place naturally alongside Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner.”
In 1979, William Saroyan was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
He was awarded the 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
His writings were greatly influenced by his Armenian heritage and the Armenian community in California, especially Fresno, where he was born and raised. Saroyan wrote extensively about the Armenian life in California.
He was born 1908 in Fresno, California, to Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, both ethnic Armenians who fled from the Ottoman Empire. His father was a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church but died when Saroyan was about three years old. Saroyan was put in an orphanage togheter with the rest of his siblings untill his mother found a job five years later.
Influenced by his late father’s writings, Saroyan was eager to become an author himself. At first he wrote under the pseudonym Sirak Goryan for various publications such as the Armenian Hairenik newspaper. His career saw a breakthrough in 1934 with ‘The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze’ about a writer during the depression era. He served in the US army during World War II yet his novel ‘The Adventures of Wesley Jackson’ almost got him into trouble for advocating pacifism. He moved to Paris in the 1950s, where he spent most of his money drinking and gambling. He also travelled throughout Europe and the USSR. Spending much time in Armenia. His optimistic and impressionistic style of writing went on to be known as ‘Saroyanesque’. Some of his best known work are My Heart’s in the Highlands (1939), The Time of Your Life (1939), The Human Comedy (1943), My Name is Aram (1940) etc.The Saroyanesque style explores a very unique style of storytelling, one that does not necessitate conflict for engaging drama or prose.
Saroyan has several statues, streets and theaters named after him around the world but mostly in the United States and Armenia.
Saroyan has two children, Aram, who later also became a writer, and Lucy, who went on to be an actress. He died in 1981 in Fresno at the age of 72. He was cremated and his ashes were buried in California whilst his heart was buried in Armenia.
“The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness.”
― William Saroyan, My Heart’s in the Highlands