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.