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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