Study Guide

William Saroyan

William Saroyan Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201156-Saroyan.jpgWilliam Saroyan. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, on August 31, 1908, the son of Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, poor Armenian immigrants. In 1911, when his father died, Saroyan was put into an Oakland orphanage with his brother, Henry, and his two sisters, Cosette and Zabel, but in 1915 he returned to Fresno with his family. Over the following decade, Saroyan attended school in Fresno and held various after-school jobs, including work as a telegraph messenger boy, an experience which he would later re-create in his fiction.

In 1926, after repeated expulsions from school for disciplinary reasons, Saroyan left Fresno without a high school diploma, first going to Los Angeles, where he served briefly in the California National Guard, then to San Francisco, where, after working as a telegraph operator, he eventually became manager at a branch office of the Postal Telegraph Company. By 1928, when he made his first trip to New York, Saroyan had made up his mind to make writing his career. Soon depressed, homesick, and discouraged, he returned to San Francisco, taking a series of brief jobs and spending most of his time learning his craft at the library and the typewriter.

Recognition and success first came to Saroyan in 1934, when Story magazine published two pieces that would also appear in his first collection of sketches, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories (1934). Once discovered, Saroyan quickly found markets for his backlog of pieces as well as his new works. In 1936, after travels abroad, Saroyan began work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. There he continued to write stories and sketches, published in several collections.

Three years later, in 1939, he made his first serious venture into dramatic form with My Heart’s in the Highlands, which opened in New York as a Group Theatre project. It was soon followed by his best-known play, The Time of Your Life (1939), for which, in 1940, Saroyan won both the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize, which, with...

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William Saroyan Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In his 1966 critical study of William Saroyan, Howard Floan claims that the writer’s reputation would ultimately rest on the plays and fiction that he wrote prior to World War II. That view, issued when Saroyan was still actively writing, has since been validated.

The quintessential Saroyan pieces are unquestionably his early works. It is they that bear his peculiar stamp—the charm, goodwill, and delight in experimentation for which he will be remembered. Perhaps it was the war that robbed him of his youthful, wide-eyed acceptance and love of life that is the hallmark of his best work; perhaps it was the misfortune of success and his stormy marriage. In any case, from the war’s end to his death, except for brief flashes of his former brilliance, Saroyan never again achieved the high critical esteem he once enjoyed.

William Saroyan Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, in 1908. His father, who died when William was two, was a minister turned grape farmer; upon his death, young Saroyan spent seven years in an orphanage, after which his family was reunited. He worked at many odd jobs, including a stint as a telegraph operator, spending most of his time in Fresno and San Francisco. His first short stories began to appear in 1934 and found instant success. In his first year as a writer his work appeared in the O’Brien volume of The Best Short Stories, and he published what is still his best-received volume of short stories, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. Thereafter he produced an amazingly prolific stream of short stories, plays, novels, and memoirs. Saroyan was twice married to Carol Marcus, with whom he had two children. In 1959, after his second divorce, he declared himself a tax exile and went to live in Europe. He returned in 1961 to teach at Purdue University and later returned to live in Fresno. He was actively writing right up to his death from cancer in 1981.

William Saroyan Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

So much of the work of William Stonehill Saroyan—especially his fiction—is drawn from the circumstances of his life that it has a biographical dimension. He was born in 1908, in Fresno, California, the city where he died on May 18, 1981. The child of Armenian immigrants, he faced his first hardship when, at his father’s death in 1911, he was placed for four years in the Fred Finch orphanage in Oakland. During these years, his mother worked in San Francisco as a maid, finally gathering the money to move back to a house in Fresno with her four children. Here Saroyan lived from age seven to seventeen, learning Armenian, acquiring an irreverence for the town’s chief social institutions—the church and the school—and working as a newspaper boy and as a telegraph messenger to help support the family.

At age fifteen, Saroyan left school permanently to work at his Uncle Aram’s vineyards. In 1926, he left Fresno, first to go to Los Angeles, then, after a brief time in the National Guard, to move to San Francisco, where he tried a number of jobs, eventually becoming at age nineteen the manager of a Postal Telegraph branch office. In 1928, determined to make his fortune as a writer, he made his first trip to New York. He returned to San Francisco the following year, somewhat discouraged by his lack of success. In the early 1930’s, however, he began to write story after story, culminating with his decision in January, 1934, to write one story a day for the whole month. That year, Story published “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” and suddenly Saroyan stories were appearing in many of the top periodicals. His first book of stories was published that year, and the following year he had enough money to make an ethnic return, a trip to Soviet...

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William Saroyan Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111201156-Saroyan.jpgWilliam Saroyan. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The youngest of four children, and the only one of them born in America, William Saroyan’s earliest memory was of his poor and exiled Armenian family in Fresno. When he was three, his father died, and the children went to an orphanage. At eight, reunited with his family, Saroyan learned to read and write, and from the age of nine considered himself a writer. At twelve, he threw out all the rules because, he said, they did not include him. He rebelled at school and spent most of his time on the streets of Fresno’s Armenian district, later weaving its atmosphere and people into his writings.

In 1934, when he was twenty-six, Best American Short Stories reprinted his story “The Broken Wheel” from an Armenian newspaper. Then Story published “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” and Saroyan was suddenly the most sought-after writer in America. He began writing plays, including The Time of Your Life: A Comedy in Three Acts, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1940. He refused the award.

He was associating with writers, actors, and the cream of New York society when he was drafted into the Army in October, 1942. He rebelled against every kind of regimentation in the Army and was humiliated by nine months of latrine duty. He wrote his first two novels by 1951, the year that he and a cousin wrote lyrics to an Armenian folk tune that became the popular song “Come on-a My House.”

Married to the debutante Carol Marcus in 1943, he and she had two children, Aram and Lucy. In 1951, she divorced him for the second time. Bitter novels about marriage and the family followed. From 1959 to 1964, he exiled himself to Paris because of income tax problems. In 1964, he returned to Fresno, where he wrote autobiographies, still seeking the meaning of his existence until his death in 1981. During his life, Saroyan published forty books and wrote hundreds of other works, some of which have since been published. His spontaneity and romantic vision helped free American fiction and drama from old forms.

William Saroyan Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

William Saroyan was the fourth child of Armenian immigrants, Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, who settled in Fresno, California. Three years after Saroyan’s birth, his father died, and Saroyan, along with his brother and sisters, was sent to an orphanage in Oakland, California. His mother, while working in San Francisco, tried to maintain the family, and by 1915, they were reunited in Fresno. Saroyan’s formal education ended before he completed high school, but by the age of twenty, he had committed himself to a career as a writer. In 1934, he won the O. Henry Award for his short story “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” During the 1930’s, Saroyan traveled widely, published five novels, and worked briefly as a...

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William Saroyan Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201156-Saroyan.jpgWilliam Saroyan. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

During the 1930’s and 1940’s, William Saroyan (suh-ROY-uhn) was one of the best-known, most critically admired, and most popular American writers. His affirmation of humane values in the face of adversity, oppression, and human error was a source of comfort to the reading public, and his audacious stylistic experiments won for him the praise of critics. Later, Saroyan continued to write as much and as well as he had before, but the world changed—and with it critical reception and public taste. After Saroyan’s death in 1981, however, audiences began to rediscover an author who was a unique blend of public figure, entertainer, and artist.

William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, to Armenian immigrants; he...

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William Saroyan Biography (Short Stories for Students)

William Saroyan (who also wrote under the pseudonym Sirak Goryan) was the fourth child of Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, who fled their native...

(The entire section is 368 words.)

William Saroyan Biography (Drama for Students)

William Saroyan (also known as Sirak Goryan) was born in Fresno, California, on August 31, 1908. He was the fourth child of Armenak and...

(The entire section is 456 words.)