William Saroyan Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 845 words.)


(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.


(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.


(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...

(The entire section is 727 words.)