Skip to main content
Select Source:

William Saroyan

William Saroyan

The skill of William Saroyan (1908-1981), American short-story writer, dramatist, and novelist, in evoking mood and atmosphere was noteworthy, and his imaginary world, peopled with common men, was warm and compelling.

William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, on August 31, 1908, the son of Armenian immigrants. After his father's death in 1911, William spent four years in an orphanage. Selling newspapers at the age of eight, he attended public schools in Fresno until, as he said, "I had been kicked out of school so many times that I finally left for good when I was fifteen."

In 1928 Saroyan decided to become a writer, but it was 1934 before his short stories began appearing consistently in major magazines. His first book was The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories (1934). At this time he concentrated on short stories. Seven collections appeared, from Inhale and Exhale (1936) to My Name Is Aram (1940). The works centered on memories of San Francisco and Fresno and show his joy in living. My Name Is Aram was particularly lyrical.

From 1939 through 1943 Saroyan was among America's most active playwrights. In My Heart's in the Highlands (1939) he departed from the current dramatic practice, for he believed that "it is folly for emotionality to be prolonged as a means by which to achieve drama." Completely episodic, bonded by a tenuous mood deriving from free spirits, the play was distinctive. He created a similar piece in The Time of Your Life (1939). Awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics' Circle Award for this play, Saroyan rejected the former. Love's Old Sweet Song (1940) was less effective, but his firm grip was evident again in The Beautiful People (1941). Hello Out There (1942), atypical of Saroyan, was an effective realistic one-act play of human isolation. Another dark play, Get Away Old Man (1943), failed, but his film The Human Comedy (1943) won an Academy Award.

During World War II Saroyan served in the Army. In 1943 he married Carol Marcus. Divorced in 1949, they remarried in 1951 and were again divorced in 1952. Although he continued to write plays, his work was mainly novels, autobiographies, film and television scripts, short stories, and even songs. His most praised novels are The Human Comedy (1943), The Assyrian (1950), Tracy's Tiger (1951), The Laughing Matter (1953), and Mama I Love You (1956). He also wrote I Used To Believe I Had Forever, Now I'm Not So Sure (1968); Escape to the Moon (1970); and The Tooth and My Father (1974). He died on May 18, 1981 in Fresno, California.

Further Reading

Saroyan's autobiographies were The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (1952), Here Comes: There Goes: You Know Who (1961), Not Dying (1963), and a more extensive one, Places Where I've Done Time (1972), in which he recalled 68 key places in his life. Carol Matthau, former spouse of Saroyan, wrote about him in her memoir, Among the Porcupines (Publishing Mills, 1992). See, also, Saroyan, Aram, William Saroyan (Harcourt, 1983). A major critical work on him was Howard R. Floan, William Saroyan (1966). A major bibliographical work was David Kherdian, A Bibliography of William Saroyan, 1934-1964 (1965). Useful insights were in John Mason Brown, Broadway in Review (1940); Brooks Atkinson, Broadway Scrapbook (1947); and George Jean Nathan, The Magic Mirror: Selected Writings on the Theatre (1960). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William Saroyan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"William Saroyan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-saroyan

"William Saroyan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-saroyan

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Saroyan, William

William Saroyan (səroi´ən), 1908–81, American author, b. Fresno, Calif. Of Armenian background and extremely prolific, he created works that combine optimism, sentimentality, and a rhapsodic love of country. These include plays such as The Time of Your Life (1939; Pulitzer Prize), My Heart's in the Highlands (1939), and The Cave Dwellers (1957); novels, including The Human Comedy (1942; he won a 1943 Academy Award for the screenplay he adapted from the book) and Boys and Girls Together (1963); short-story volumes, notably The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934), his first published book, and My Name is Aram (1940); and such autobiographical works as Here Comes, There Goes You Know Who (1961) and Places Where I've Done Time (1972). Saroyan fell out of fashion in the post–World War II era and, although he continued to produce masses of manuscripts, he never again captured wide popular attention.

See memoir by V. Samuelian (1985); biographies by L. Lee and B. Gifford (1984) and J. Leggett (2002); studies by D. S. Calonne (1983), E. H. Foster (1984), and N. Balakian (1998).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Saroyan, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Saroyan, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saroyan-william

"Saroyan, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saroyan-william

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Saroyan, William

Saroyan, William (1908–81) US novelist, short-story writer, and dramatist. Saroyan followed the success of his first play, My Heart's in the Highlands (1939), with the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Time of Your Life (1939) and the autobiographical My Name is Aram (1940). His subsequent works were less successful, although The Cave Dwellers (1957) received some critical acclaim.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Saroyan, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Saroyan, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saroyan-william

"Saroyan, William." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saroyan-william

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Saroyan, William

SAROYAN, William

Nationality: American. Born: Fresno, California, 31 August 1908. Education: Public schools in Fresno to age 15. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Army, 1942-45. Family: Married Carol Marcus in 1943 (divorced 1949; remarried 1951; divorced 1952); one son (the writer Aram Saroyan) and one daughter. Career: Worked as grocery clerk, vineyard worker, post office employee; clerk, telegraph operator, then office manager, Postal Telegraph Company, San Francisco, 1926-28; co-founder, Conference Press, Los Angeles, 1936; founder and director, Saroyan Theatre, New York, 1942; writer-in-residence, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, 1961. Awards: New York Drama Critics Circle award, 1940; Pulitzer prize, 1940 (refused); Oscar (for screenplay), 1944. Member: American Academy, 1943. Died: 18 May 1981.

Publications

Collections

My Name Is Saroyan, edited by James H. Tashjian. 1983.

Saroyan: Memoirs, edited by Brian Darwent. 1994.

The William Saroyan Reader. 1994.

Short Stories

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories. 1934.

Inhale and Exhale. 1936.

Three Times Three. 1936.

Little Children. 1937.

The Gay and Melancholy Flux: Short Stories. 1937.

Love, Here Is My Hat. 1938.

A Native American. 1938.

The Trouble with Tigers. 1938.

Peace, It's Wonderful. 1939.

3 Fragments and a Story. 1939.

My Name Is Aram. 1940.

Saroyan's Fables. 1941.

The Insurance Salesman and Other Stories. 1941.

48 Saroyan Stories. 1942.

Best Stories. 1942.

Thirty-One Selected Stories. 1943.

Some Day I'll Be a Millionaire: 34 More Great Stories. 1943.

Dear Baby. 1944.

The Saroyan Special: Selected Short Stories. 1948.

The Fiscal Hoboes. 1949.

The Assyrian and Other Stories. 1950.

The Whole Voyald and Other Stories. 1956.

Love. 1959.

After Thirty Years: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (includes essays). 1964. Best Stories of Saroyan. 1964.

My Kind of Crazy Wonderful People: 17 Stories and a Play. 1966.

An Act or Two of Foolish Kindness: Two Stories. 1977.

Madness in the Family, edited by Leo Hamalian. 1988.

The Man with the Heart in the Highlands and Other Early Stories. 1989.

Fresno Stories. 1994.

Novels

The Human Comedy. 1943.

The Adventures of Wesley Jackson. 1946.

The Twin Adventures: The Adventures of Saroyan: A Diary; The Adventures of Wesley Jackson: A Novel. 1950.

Rock Wagram. 1951.

Tracy's Tiger. 1951.

The Laughing Matter. 1953; as A Secret Story, 1954.

Mama I Love You. 1956.

Papa You're Crazy. 1957.

Boys and Girls Together. 1963.

One Day in the Afternoon of the World. 1964.

Plays

The Man with the Heart in the Highlands, in Contemporary One-Act Plays, edited by William Kozlenko. 1938; revised version, as My Heart's in the Highlands (produced 1939), 1939.

The Time of Your Life (produced 1939). In The Time of Your Life(miscellany), 1939.

The Hungerers (produced 1945). 1939.

A Special Announcement (broadcast 1940).

Love's Old Sweet Song (produced 1940). In Three Plays, 1940.

Three Plays: My Heart's in the Highlands, The Time of Your Life, Love's Old Sweet Song. 1940.

Subway Circus. 1940.

Something about a Soldier (produced 1940).

Hero of the World (produced 1940).

The Great American Goof (ballet scenario; produced 1940). InRazzle Dazzle, 1942.

Radio Play (broadcast 1940). In Razzle Dazzle, 1942.

The Ping-Pong Game (produced 1945). 1940; as The Ping Pong Players, in Razzle Dazzle, 1942.

Sweeney in the Trees (produced 1940). In Three Plays, 1941.

The Beautiful People (produced 1941). In Three Plays, 1941.

Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning (produced 1941). InThree Plays, 1941.

Three Plays: The Beautiful People, Sweeney in the Trees, Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning. 1941.

The People with Light Coming Out of Them (broadcast 1941). InThe Free Company Presents, 1941.

There's Something I Got To Tell You (broadcast 1941). In Razzle Dazzle, 1942.

Hello, Out There, music by Jack Beeson (produced 1941). InRazzle Dazzle, 1942.

Jim Dandy (produced 1941). 1941; as Jim Dandy: Fat Man in a Famine, 1947.

Talking to You (produced 1942). In Razzle Dazzle, 1942.

Razzle Dazzle; or, The Human Opera, Ballet, and Circus; or There's Something I Got to Tell You: Being Many Kinds of Short Plays As Well As the Story of the Writing of Them (includes Hello, Out There, Coming Through the Rye, Talking to You, The Great American Goof, The Poetic Situation in America, Opera, Opera, Bad Men in the West, The Agony of Little Nations, A Special Announcement, Radio Play, The People with Light Coming Out of Them, There's Something I Got to Tell You, The Hungerers, Elmer and Lily, Subway Circus, The Ping Pong Players). 1942; abridged edition, 1945.

Opera, Opera (produced 1955). In Razzle Dazzle, 1942.

Bad Men in the West (produced 1971). In Razzle Dazzle, 1942.

Get Away Old Man (produced 1943). 1944.

Sam Ego's House (produced 1947). In Don't Go Away Mad and Two Other Plays, 1949.

Don't Go Away Mad (produced 1949). In Don't Go Away Mad and Two Other Plays. 1949.

Don't Go Away Mad and Two Other Plays: Sam Ego's House; A Decent Birth, A Happy Funeral. 1949.

The Son (produced 1950).

The Oyster and the Pearl: A Play for Television (televised 1953). InPerspectives USA, Summer 1953.

A Lost Child's Fireflies (produced 1954).

Once Around the Block (produced 1956). 1959.

The Cave Dwellers (produced 1957). 1958.

Ever Been in Love with a Midget (produced 1957).

The Slaughter of the Innocents (produced 1957). 1958.

Cat, Mouse, Man, Woman and The Accident, in Contact 1, 1958. The Dogs; or, The Paris Comedy (as The Paris Comedy; or The Secret of Lily, produced 1960; as Lily Dafon, produced 1960). In The Dogs; or, The Paris Comedy and Two Other Plays, 1969.

Settled Out of Court, with Henry Cecil, from the novel by Cecil (produced 1960). 1962.

Sam, The Highest Jumper of Them All; or, The London Comedy(produced 1960). 1961.

High Time along the Wabash (produced 1961).

Ah Man, music by Peter Fricker (produced 1962).

Four Plays: The Playwright and the Public, The Handshakers, The Doctor and the Patient, This I Believe, in Atlantic, April 1963. The Time of Your Life and Other Plays. 1967.

Dentist and Patient and Husband and Wife, in The Best Short Plays1968, edited by Stanley Richards. 1968.

The Dogs; or, The Paris Comedy and Two Other Plays: Chris Sick; or, Happy New Year Anyway, Making Money, and Nineteen Other Very Short Plays. 1969.

The New Play, in The Best Short Plays 1970, edited by StanleyRichards. 1970.

Armenians (produced 1974).

The Rebirth Celebration of the Human Race at Artie Zabala's Off-Broadway Theatre (produced 1975).

Two Short Paris Summertime Plays of 1974 (includes Assassinations and Jim, Sam, and Anna). 1979.

Play Things (produced 1980).

Warsaw Visitor [and] Tales from Vienna Streets, edited by DickranKouymjian. 1991.

Screenplays:

The Good Job (documentary), 1942; The Human Comedy, with Howard Estabrook, 1943.

Radio Plays:

Radio Play, 1940; A Special Announcement, 1940;There's Something I Got to Tell You, 1941; The People with Light Coming Out of Them, 1941.

Television Plays:

The Oyster and the Pearl, 1953; Ah Sweet Mystery of Mrs. Murphy, 1959; The Unstoppable Gray Fox, 1962; Making Money and Thirteen Other Very Short Plays, 1970.

Ballet Scenario:

A Theme in the Life of the Great American Goof, 1940.

Poetry

A Christmas Psalm. 1935.

Christmas 1939. 1939.

Other

Those Who Write Them and Those Who Collect Them. 1936.

The Time of Your Life (miscellany). 1939.

Harlem as Seen by Hirschfeld. 1941.

Hilltop Russians in San Francisco. 1941.

Why Abstract?, with Henry Miller and Hilaire Hiler. 1945.

The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (autobiography). 1952.

The Saroyan Reader. 1958.

Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who (autobiography). 1962.

A Note on Hilaire Hiler. 1962.

Me (for children). 1963.

Not Dying (autobiography). 1963.

Short Drive, Sweet Chariot (autobiography). 1966.

Look at Us: Let's See: Here We Are: Look Hard: Speak Soft: I See, You See, We all See; Stop, Look, Listen; Beholder's Eye; Don't Look Now But Isn't That You? (us? U.S.?). 1967.

Horsey Gorsey and the Frog (for children). 1968.

I Used to Believe I Had Forever; Now I'm Not So Sure. 1968.

Letters from 74 rue Taitbout. 1969; as Don't Go But If You Must Say Hello to Everybody, 1970.

Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon. 1970.

Places Where I've Done Time. 1972.

The Tooth and My Father (for children). 1974.

Famous Faces and Other Friends: A Personal Memoir. 1976.

Morris Hirshfield. 1976.

Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang In Forever (memoirs). 1976.

Chance Meetings. 1978.

Obituaries. 1979.

Births. 1983.

Editor, Hairenik 1934-1939: An Anthology of Short Stort and Poems. 1939.

*

Bibliography:

A Bibliography of Saroyan 1934-1964 by David Kherdian, 1965.

Critical Studies:

"What Ever Happened to Saroyan?" by William J. Fisher, in College English 16, March 1955; Saroyan by Howard R. Floan, 1966; Last Rites: The Death of Saroyan, 1982, and Saroyan, 1983, both by Aram Saroyan; Saroyan: My Real Work Is Being by David Stephen Calonne, 1983; Saroyan by Edward Halsey Foster, 1984; Saroyan: A Biography by Lawrence Lee and Barry Gifford, 1984; Saroyan: The Man and the Writer Remembered edited by Leo Hamalian, 1987; The World of William Saroyan: A Literary Interpretation by Nona Balakian, 1997.

* * *

As Howard Floan pointed out, William Saroyan's career can be divided into four periods, each one distinguished by Saroyan's choice of literary genre. In the closing years of his life, for example, Saroyan wrote several autobiographical volumes, thereby concentrating on a genre that had been implicit in his work from the beginning. Prior to that phase he had focused his attention on the novel, producing in 1943 one of his best-known works, The Human Comedy. An interest in drama (1939-43) preceded his novelistic phase. In the earliest years of his long career (1934-39), before he started writing plays, Saroyan wrote several collections of short stories. Many critics feel that these will prove to be his most significant contribution to American literature.

The collections are impressive both for the quality of their prose and for their number. Between 1934 and 1939 Saroyan published The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, Inhale and Exhale, Three Times Three, Little Children, Love, Here Is My Hat, The Trouble with Tigers, and Peace, It's Wonderful. With each one he developed a more sophisticated attitude toward the formal components of the short story, resisting a bit more in each collection his natural tendency to interrupt his narratives with philosophical reflections spoken in his own voice. Gradually he chose to place greater faith in his abilities as a storyteller. In 1936 he wrote, "Critics are happiest with my stuff … when I try for almost nothing, when I sit down and very quietly tell a little story. In a way, I don't blame them, I myself enjoy writing and reading a very simple story, that is whole and with form" (Three Times Three).

Despite this admission, Saroyan never equated form with formulaic plots or simplicity with an absence of ideas. From "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" he consistently dramatized what one critic (William J. Fisher) calls a "pseudo-philosophy" and another (David Stephen Calonne) more generously refers to as a "central concern … [with] humanity's deepest spiritual aspirations." In Saroyan's oeuvre the short story is unique only insofar as its length forced him to integrate his ideas and beliefs more effectively into the traditional elements of tone, plot, and characterization. In doing so it provided him with fewer opportunities to interrupt the narrative with his own distinct voice.

Even an early autobiographical story like "Seventy Thousand Assyrians" demonstrates how the genre could control Saroyan's ego. Despite its first-person narrative and conversational tone, "Seventy Thousand Assyrians" is not concerned exclusively with the inner life of the speaker; rather, it treats the ways in which the narrator responds to the world around him. Saroyan allows the world—its people, places, and language—to shape the young writer who narrates his story from a barber shop on Third Avenue in San Francisco. The Iowa farm boy, the Assyrian barber, and even the distinctly "American" language that both enables him to communicate and threatens to "isolate" him, all of these elements define the narrator as principally a member of the "brotherhood of things alive." "If I have any desire at all," he concludes after his encounters, "it is to show the brotherhood of man."

This dialectic between the self and the world manifests itself less directly but no less forcefully in later stories such as "The Man with the Heart in the Highlands" and "Love, Here Is My Hat." The former dramatizes a series of exchanges between "neighbors and friends" that centers around the figure of an itinerant bugler named Jasper MacGregor; the second depicts two people who can only satisfy their own appetites for life through their relationship with one another. In both cases Saroyan draws strong central characters by demonstrating how they interact with those around them; he dramatizes, in other words, a much later autobiographical admission (in Sons Come) in which he asserts, "I not only believe that … it means something that I am…. I [also] believe that this meaning is large, and goes far, and is not ever going to be forgotten by … the human family."

As many critics have noted, the consequences of this dialectic between the self and the world is twofold. The subsequent quest for human unity and harmony gives Saroyan's prose, especially in the short stories, much of its force and meaning. The dialectical nature of the quest leads readers to interpret those stories about the fragmented lives of individuals as allegories about the broken center at the heart of all twentieth-century reality. "Deeply aware of the fragmentation and spiritual anarchy of life in the modern world," Saroyan, writes Calonne, "exhibits a driving impulse toward joy, self-realization, and psychic integration. Read in this manner, the stories do address what Saroyan himself (in Three Plays) called "the imperative requirement of our time": to "re-store faith to the mass and integrity to the individual."

But, as Fisher argues, in order to fulfill this requirement Saroyan often sacrifices too much. According to Fisher, Saroyan "yearn[s] for a harmony, for an eradication of conflicts and contradictions" that tends to "eliminate all distinction, reducing meaning to some amorphous unit—if not to a cipher." The result is a sentimental literature that ignores evil, champions an unshakable optimism, and tries desperately "to get rid of the unpleasant realities of life."

There is an element of truth to both positions, as one might expect given Saroyan's preoccupation with his fundamental belief in the intrinsic value of life or "being." "The thing about the people one meets on arrival, upon being born," writes Saroyan in Chance Meetings, "is that they are the people they are." One could argue that this single realization has motivated his entire career. If that is the case, then surely one also can understand how the consequences of his fiction would be as complicated and contradictory as the hearts of both his characters and readers.

—John C. Waldmeir

See the essay on "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze."

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Saroyan, William." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Saroyan, William." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saroyan-william

"Saroyan, William." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/saroyan-william

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Saroyan, William

William Saroyan

Personal

Born August 31, 1908, in Fresno, CA; died of cancer May 18, 1981, in Fresno, CA; son of Armenak (a Presbyterian preacher and writer) and Takoohi (Saroyan) Saroyan; married Carol Marcus, February, 1943 (divorced, November, 1949; remarried 1951; divorced, 1952); children: Aram, Lucy.


Career

Short story writer, playwright, and novelist. Sold newspapers at age eight for Fresno Evening Herald; worked variously as a telegraph messenger boy, in a law office, and as a grocery clerk, vineyard worker, postal employee, and office manager of San Francisco Postal Telegraph Co. Co-founder, Conference Press, 1936; organizer and director, Saroyan Theatre, August, 1942 (closed after one week). Writer-in-residence, Purdue University, 1961. Military service: U.S. Army, 1942-45.


Awards, Honors

O. Henry Award, 1934, for "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze"; Drama Critics Circle Award, and Pulitzer Prize for drama (declined), both 1940, both for The Time of Your Life; Academy Award, 1943, for screenplay The Human Comedy; California Literature Gold Medal, 1952, for Tracy's Tiger; American Book Award nomination, 1980, for Obituaries; in 1991, both the United States and the U.S.S.R. issued stamps featuring a portrait of William Saroyan; William Saroyan International Prize for Writing established by Stanford University Libraries/William Saroyan Foundation, 2002.


Writings

STORY COLLECTIONS

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1934.

Inhale and Exhale (includes "International Harvester"; also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1936.

Three Times Three (also see below), Conference Press, 1936.

Little Children, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1937.

A Gay and Melancholy Flux, Faber (London, England), 1937.

Love, Here Is My Hat, and Other Short Romances, Modern Age Books, 1938.

The Trouble with Tigers, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1938.

A Native American, George Fields, 1938.

Peace, It's Wonderful, Modern Age Books, 1939.

3 Fragments and a Story, Little Man, 1939.

My Name Is Aram, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1940, revised edition, 1966.

Saroyan's Fables, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1941.

The Insurance Salesman and Other Stories, Faber (London, England), 1941.

48 Saroyan Stories, Avon (New York, NY), 1942.

Thirty-one Selected Stories, Avon (New York, NY), 1943.

Someday I'll Be a Millionaire Myself, Avon (New York, NY), 1944.

Dear Baby, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1944.

The Saroyan Special: Selected Short Stories, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1948.

The Fiscal Hoboes, Press of Valenti Angelo, 1949.

The Assyrian, and Other Stories, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1950.

The Whole Voyald and Other Stories, Atlantic (Boston, MA), 1956.

After Thirty Years: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (includes essays), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1964.

Best Stories of William Saroyan, Faber (London, England), 1964.

Deleted Beginning and End of a Short Story, Lowell-Adams House Printers (Cambridge, MA), 1965.

My Kind of Crazy and Wonderful People, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1966.

Man with the Heart in the Highlands, and Other Stories, Dell (New York, NY), 1968.

Madness in the Family, edited by Leo Hamalian, New Directions (New York, NY), 1988.

Fresno Stories, New Directions (New York, NY), 1994.


NOVELS

The Human Comedy (also see below), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1943, revised edition, 1966.

The Adventures of Wesley Jackson (also see below), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1946.

The Twin Adventures: The Adventures of William Saroyan, a Diary; The Adventures of Wesley Jackson, a Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1950.

Rock Wagram, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1951.

Tracy's Tiger (fantasy), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1951, revised edition, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1967.

The Laughing Matter, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1953.

Mama I Love You, Atlantic (Boston, MA), 1956.

Papa You're Crazy, Atlantic (Boston, MA), 1957.

Boys and Girls Together, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1963.

One Day in the Afternoon of the World, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1964.


PLAYS

The Hungerers: A Short Play, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1939.

My Heart's in the Highlands (produced on Broadway, 1939; first published in One-Act Play magazine; also see below), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1939.

The Time of Your Life (produced on Broadway, 1939; produced in London, England, 1982; also see below), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1939.

A Theme in the Life of the Great American Goof (ballet-play; also see below), produced in New York, NY, 1940.

Subway Circus, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1940.

The Ping-Pong Game (produced in New York, 1945), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1940.

A Special Announcement, House of Books, 1940.

Three Plays: My Heart's in the Highlands, The Time of Your Life, Love's Old Sweet Song, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1940.

(And director) The Beautiful People, (produced on Broadway, 1940), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1941.

Love's Old Sweet Song (produced on Broadway, 1940; also see below), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1941.

Radio Play, CBS-Radio, 1941.

The People with Light Coming out of Them (radio play; broadcast, 1941), The Free Company (New York, NY)/CBS-Radio, 1941.

Jim Dandy, Little Man Press (Cincinnati, OH), 1941, published as Jim Dandy: Fat Man in a Famine, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1947.

Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning, produced in Pasadena, CA, 1941; (and director) produced on Broadway at Belasco Theatre, on the same bill with Talking to You, August, 1942.

Three Plays: The Beautiful People, Sweeney in the Trees, Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1941.

Hello out There, produced in Santa Barbara, CA, 1941, produced on Broadway, 1949.

(And director) Sam, the Highest Jumper of Them All; or, The London Comedy (produced in London, England, 1960), Faber (London, England), 1941.

Razzle-Dazzle (short plays; includes A Theme in the Life of the Great American Goof), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1942.

Talking to You, produced in New York, 1942.

The Good Job (screenplay; based on his story "A Number of the Poor"), Loew, 1942.

The Human Comedy (screenplay scenario; based on his novel), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1943.

Get away Old Man (produced on Broadway at Cort Theatre, November, 1943), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1944.

Sam Ego's House (produced in Hollywood, CA, 1947), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1949.

Don't Go away Mad, produced in New York, NY, 1949.

Don't Go away Mad, and Two Other Plays: Sam Ego's House; A Decent Birth, A Happy Funeral, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1949.

The Son, produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1950.

Once around the Block (produced in New York, 1950), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1954.

A Lost Child's Fireflies, produced in Dallas, TX, 1954.

Opera, Opera, produced in New York, NY, 1955.

Ever Been in Love with a Midget?, produced in Berlin, Germany, 1957.

The Cave Dwellers (produced on Broadway, 1957), Putnam (New York, NY), 1958.

The Slaughter of the Innocents (produced in the Hague, Netherlands, 1957), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1958.

The Paris Comedy; or, The Secret of Lily (produced in Vienna, Austria, 1958), published as The Paris Comedy; or, The Dogs, Chris Sick, and Twenty-one Other Plays (also published as The Dogsy;, or, The Paris Comedy, and Two Other Plays, Phaedra, 1960.

(With Henry Cecil) Settled Out of Court, produced in London, England, 1960.

High Time along the Wabash, produced in West Lafayette, IN, 1961.

Ah, Man, music by Peter Fricker, produced in Adelburgh, Suffolk, England, 1962.

Bad Men in the West, produced in Stanford, CA, 1971.

(With others) People's Lives, produced in New York, NY, 1972.

The Rebirth Celebration of the Human Race at Artie Zabala's Off-Broadway Theater, produced in New York, NY, 1975.

Two Short Paris Summertime Plays of 1974: Assassinations and Jim, Sam and Anna, Santa Susana Press, 1979.

The Armenian Trilogy, California State University Press, 1989.

Warsaw Visitor and Tales from the Vienna Streets, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1990.

Also author of plays Something about a Soldier, Hero of the World, and Sweeney in the Trees, produced 1940; Cat, Mouse, Man, Woman, 1958, Four Plays: The Play wright and the Public, The Handshakers, The Doctor and the Patient, This I Believe, 1963, Dentist and Patient and Husband and Wife, 1968, The New Play, 1970, Armenians, produced, 1974, and Play Things, produced, 1980. Author of radio plays, including There's Something I Got to Tell You. Author of teleplays The Oyster and the Pearl, televised, 1953. Plays represented in anthologies, including Famous American Plays of the 1930s, edited by Harold Clurman; and One Act: Eleven Short Plays of the Modern Theatre, edited by Samuel Moon.


OTHER

A Christmas Psalm (poetry), Gelber, Lilienthal, 1935.

Those Who Write Them and Those Who Collect Them, Black Archer Press, 1936.

The Time of Your Life (miscellany), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1939.

Christmas, 1939 (poetry), Quercus Press, 1939.

Harlem as Seen by Hirschfield, Hyperion Press (New York, NY), 1941.

Hilltop Russians in San Francisco, James Ladd Delkin, 1941.

Fragment, Albert M. Bender, 1943.

(With Henry Miller and Hilaire Hiler) Why Abstract?, New Directions, 1945.

(Author of introduction) Khatchik Minasian, The Simple Songs of Khatchik Minasian, Colt Press, 1950.

The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (autobiography), Scribner (New York, NY), 1952.

The William Saroyan Reader, G. Braziller (New York, NY), 1958.

Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who (autobiography), Trident, 1962.

My Lousy Adventures with Money, New Strand (London, England), 1962.

A Note on Hilaire Hiler, Wittenborn, 1962.

Me (juvenile), Crowell-Collier, 1963.

Not Dying: An Autobiographical Interlude , Harcourt (New York, NY), 1963.

Short Drive, Sweet Chariot (reminiscences), Phaedra, 1966.

(Author of introduction) The Arabian Nights, Platt & Munk, 1966.

Look at Us; Let's See; Here We Are; Look Hard, Speak Soft; I See, You See, We All See; Stop, Look, Listen; Beholder's Eye; Don't Look Now but Isn't That You? (Us? U.S.?), Cowles, 1967.

I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I'm Not So Sure, Cowles, 1968.

(Author of foreword) Barbara Holden and Mary Jane Woebcke, A Child's Guide to San Francisco, Diablo Press, 1968.

Horsey Gorsey and the Frog (juvenile), illustrated by Grace Davidian, R. Hale, 1968.

Letters from 74 rue Taitbout, or Don't Go, But If You Must, Say Hello to Everybody, World, 1968, published as Don't Go, But If You Must, Say Hello to Everybody, Cassell, 1970.

Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon, Dial, 1970.

(Editor and author of introduction) Hairenik, 1934-1939: An Anthology of Short Stories and Poems (collection of Armenian-American literature), Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Places Where I've Done Time, Praeger, 1972.

The Tooth and My Father, Doubleday, 1974.

An Act or Two of Foolish Kindness, Penmaen Press & Design, 1976.

Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang In Forever, Franklin Library, 1976.

Morris Hirschfield, Rizzoli International, 1976.

Chance Meetings, Norton (New York, NY), 1978.

(Compiler) Patmuatsk'ner / Uiliem Saroyean; hayats'uts$#x0027; Hovhannes Sheohmelean (selected Armenian stories), Sewan, 1978.

Obituaries, Creative Arts, 1979.

Births, introduction by David Kherdian, Creative Arts, 1981.

My Name Is Saroyan (autobiography), edited by James H. Tashjian, Coward-McCann, 1983.

The New Saroyan Reader: A Connoisseur's Anthology of the Writings of William Saroyan, edited by Brian Derwent, Creative Arts, 1984.

The Circus (juvenile), Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1986.

The Pheasant Hunter: About Fathers and Sons, Redpath Press, 1986.

The Parsley Garden (juvenile), Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1989.

Also author of Famous Faces and Other Friends, 1976. Writer of song lyrics, including Come on-a My House with Ross Bagdasarian, 1951. Contributor to periodicals, including Overland Monthly, Hairenik (Armenian-American magazine), Story, Saturday Evening Post, Atlantic Monthly, Look, and McCall's.


Adaptations

A film version of The Human Comedy starring Mickey Rooney was released in 1943; United Artists adapted The Time of Your Life for a film starring Jimmy Cagney in 1948; an opera version of Hello, out There, prepared by composer Jack Beeson, was widely performed in 1953; a television adaptation of The Time of Your Life was produced on Playhouse 90, October, 1958; story "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Mrs. Murphy" was produced by NBC-TV, 1959; story "The Unstoppable Gray Fox" was produced by CBS-TV, 1962; My Heart's in the Highlands was adapted for opera by Beeson, 1970; selections from Making Money and Thirteen Other Very Short Plays were presented on television by NET Playhouse. 1970; a musical version of The Human Comedy was produced on Broadway by Joseph Papp, 1986.


Sidelights

While William Saroyan wrote many stories, plays, novels, children's books, and memoirs, he is probably best known for his plays My Heart's in the Highlands and The Time of Your Life, the latter of which earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 (which he declined). The son of Armenian immigrants, Saroyan wrote about the lighter side of the immigrant experience in America, with special emphasis on humor and family life, both of which are central to Armenian culture. His works reveal his appreciation of the American dream and his awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of American society.

Saroyan first became known for his short stories of people surviving the economic depression of the 1930s, then began writing for the theatre. A prolific writer, he tried his hand at a number of different genres during his long career. Writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Philip Bufithis explained: "A central value that Saroyan invokes is that of human community. He rejects the authority of an age that insists that an individual's knowledge of other people and the world is no longer possible. Implicit in his writings is a magical relation with the world at large, and the sad acknowledgment that it is languishing. . . . One can read Saroyan effortlessly. His style, when effective, conjures up the image of a musing, companionable raconteur. To read him is to feel that writing must be a joy. It is a joy born of receiving human life with loving wonder."

Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, on August 31, 1908. His parents, Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, were Armenian refugees who came to the United States to escape the violence and starvation in their homeland. In 1896, twelve years before Saroyan's birth, 200,000 Armenians were massacred by the Turks. In 1915 the Turks deported the Armenian population of 2,500,000 to Syria and Mesopotamia; more than a million and a half Armenians were killed during this process. The Armenian migration then began in earnest; of those who escaped deportation, many fled to Russia and the United States.


Weathers Youthful Hardships

Saroyan's early life was difficult. After his father died when Saroyan was three years old, he and his brother and two sisters were sent to live in an orphanage for four years, until their mother was able to support them. Saroyan attended local schools in Fresno, California, until age fifteen, then left to work as a messenger boy to help support the family. He later moved to San Francisco to work as a telegraph operator. By 1928 he had set his mind on becoming a writer and sold his first short story to Overland Monthly magazine. "I took to writing at an early age to escape from meaninglessness, uselessness, unimportance, insignificance, poverty, enslavement, ill health, despair, madness, and all manner of other unattractive, natural, and inevitable things. I have managed to conceal my madness fairly effectively," he wrote in the memoir Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who.


Breaks with Literary Traditions

With the 1934 publication of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories, Saroyan gained widespread attention for his work. The stories had been written quickly, a fact Saroyan addresses in his preface to the collection. Greg Keeler in the Dictionary of Literary Biography explained that, in that preface, the author "advocates the abandonment of traditional short-story forms and asserts that the will of the author is the crucial element of unity. Thus, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze fit the literary vogue of the day both in its rebellious stance and in its advocacy of the individual."

The collection's title story concerns a young manm—obviously Saroyan himselfm—who confronts the materialistic society he lives in and finds that there is no place for him in it. Death is his only way out. Giving up first food, then even the literature he enjoys reading, the man finally wills himself to die. "In this story," Keeler wrote, "Saroyan establishes one of the main themes that permeates almost all of his subsequent writingsm—the brilliance and importance of life in the face of deathm—usually emphasized by Saroyan's direct, autobiographical narrative but often finding a more distinct objective presentation."

Other stories in the collection are told in a direct voice as if Saroyan is speaking to the reader. In "Seventy Thousand Assyrians" Saroyan writes of a barber he met who is an Assyrian. Both the Assyrians and Saroyan's own people, the Armenians, have been driven from their homelands and into exile. He then realizes how the survival of individuals of both groups, even while their homelands are destroyed, is a sign of hope. In "A Cold Day," the author structures his story as a personal letter from him to the editor of Story magazine. In the letter, he tells the editor how difficult it is for him to write in such a cold apartment. The minimal events of the story nonetheless make it clear that Saroyan and the suicidal young man in the title story are one and the same.

Bufithis explained the impact of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories: "This book affected the world of American fiction like a flow of spring water. People were moved and intrigued. They had never read anything like it before. The naturalness, clarity, and spontaneity of these stories attracted people who ordinarily did not read fiction. Their winsome artlessness charmed reviewers. Here was an unusual kind of Depression fiction. It understood the damaging sadness of unemployment and the smashed hopes of young men in an intimately personal and colloquially lyrical way. It appealed to a populist America by being anti-intellectual and anti-literature."

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories brought Saroyan instant fame. When he visited New York, the literary world was generous in their praise for his stories. He was even offered a contract to write for films. Over the next five years, Saroyan wrote almost five hundred short stories in eight collections. These early collections project a wide variety of thematic concerns, yet they are united in their portrayal of America between the two world wars. The collection Three Times Three from 1936 contains one of his best-known stories, "The Man with the Heart in the Highlands." An autobiographical story about an Armenian-American family living in rural California, the story is narrated by the family's six-year-old son. The following year, Saroyan turned the story into a one-act play titled My Heart's in the Highlands. In 1939, the play was staged on Broadway by the Group Theatre.

My Heart's in the Highlands is a simple, sentimental story about a poor farm family trying to better themselves. Johnny Alexander lives with his father and grandmother. His father makes little money, although he works hard, and in his spare time he writes poetry that is repeatedly rejected by Atlantic Monthly magazine. When Jasper, a former musician, wanders into town, he stays with Johnny's family for a time. He plays the bugle, and in appreciation for his songs, the neighbors give the family food. At play's end, the family is forced to leave their house because they cannot pay the rent. But before they go, Johnny's father stops at the local grocery store where he owes some money. Unable to pay, he gives the grocer some of his poems. While critics of the time found the play difficult to understandm—many dubbed it surrealisticm—Saroyan had faith that audiences would understand and enjoy it. H. W. Matalene wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "Saroyan's play is a coherent and detailed statement of the most pervasive belief in his writing. This is the belief that human life takes on value and meaning through direct, hedonic excitation of the five senses by two classes of stimulim—those produced by people and those produced by nonhuman nature. In the former case, Saroyan sees people, ideally, as constantly engaged in various kinds of direct exchanges which excite the love of life in the partners to these exchanges. For Saroyan, a properly functioning economy includes exchanges not only of goods and specialized services, but also of kindnesses and civilities. In the ideal exchange, Saroyan feels, the partners know what they need and like, and feel in their bones that they are getting what they need from each other."


The Time of Your Life

1939 also saw Saroyan produce his most successful play, The Time of Your Life. Set in Nick's Pacific Street Saloon in San Francisco, the play tells of Joe, one of the saloon's regular customers. Joe spends his time drinking and doing small kindnesses for people, trying to make up for the sins he has committed in the past. Joe has helped Kitty, a former prostitute, leave her tawdry life behind and gain a measure of self-esteem. He also helps a bar patron named Tom financially so that Tom can marry Kitty. The saloon's quiet atmosphere is interrupted when Blick, the vice cop, comes in and begins to harass Kitty. A regular patron named Kit Carson, known for his tall tales, defends her. In the fight, Carson kills Blick.

As Howard R. Floan, writing in his William Saroyan, explained: "Joe provides the central reference point of the play, but the play is not about Joe, or about any other of its characters. It is about a state of mind, illusive but real, whose more readily recognizable components are, first, an awareness of America's youthm—its undisciplined, swaggering, unregulated early lifem—and, secondly, a pervasive sense of America in crisis: an America of big-business, of labor strife, of depersonalized government, and, above all, of imminent war. Implicit is the suggestion that, if the nation survives, it will do so by reaffirming certain qualities of its youth and by solving the problems from below, through awareness and good will on the part of the little people. These notions are vague and never articulated, but they are there. In a theater that tends always to over-conceptualize, Saroyan's willingness to understate, to rely on implication, and to use character and atmosphere for suggestive power only seemed to many like an evasion of his responsibility. Those who looked for a clearly defined theme and tightly constructed plot were disappointed by the apparent formlessness and the undeniable vagueness of the play. Like My Heart's in the Highlands, however, The Time of Your Life consists of a mood dramatized, an emotion conveyed directly. It has the power to move an audience, as its response clearly indicated."

The Time of Your Life won the Pulitzer Prize as the best play of the 1939-1940 season, but Saroyan refused the award on the grounds that businessmen should not judge art. Matalene noted that "hardly a year goes by in which professional actors somewhere in America do not revive The Time of Your Life . On the basis of both The Time of Your Life and My Heart's in the Highlands, added the critic, "the place of William Saroyan in the history of the American theatre still seems as secure as he always told us it would be."


A Prolific Playwright

Saroyan was aware early in his career that his plays were being neglected by critics. In his book Razzle-Dazzle, he noted: "As it happened first with my short stories, my plays appeared so suddenly and continued to come so swiftly that no one was quite prepared to fully meet and appreciate them, so that so far neither the short stories nor the plays have found critical understanding worthy of them. If the critics have failed, I have not. I have both written and criticized my plays, and so far the importance I have given them, as they have appeared, has been supported by theatrical history. If the critics have not yet agreed with me on the value of my work, it is still to be proved that I am not the writer I say I am. I shall some day startle those who now regard me as nothing more than a show-off, but I shall not startle myself."

Although Saroyan's workm—including that for the statem—was widely reviewed during his lifetime, it rarely received serious critical analysis. He often blamed this on the fact that he was from the American West and all the major critics were based in the East. Although many have claimed that his loosely structured, anecdotal stories and memoirs overflow with sentiment and description and lack structure and form, Saroyan's works continued to be widely read. His special talent lay in his ability to create poetic, humorous characters and situations that readers believed in. "Throughout his career," Matalene concluded, "Saroyan has been patronized and underinterpreted. One senses that critics have been less interested in discovering and teaching Saroyan's message than they have been in congratulating themselves for having been so democratic as to have admitted to the canon of recognized literature the work of an uneducated, penniless Armenian from Fresnom—at least for as long as he seemed amusing."

Saroyan wrote prolifically all his life, too prolifically some critics believed. But the author was honest about the reasons for his constant output of work: he had a gambling addiction and needed a constant supply of money to feed this condition. Saroyan once estimated that over the course of his life, he had lost some $2 million while gambling. In his later years he lived in Paris for tax reasons, as he explained to the New York Times. Despite money worries, he always maintained his good humor. Keeler revealed that, "not long before his death Saroyan phoned in his official last words to the Associated Press: 'Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?'"


Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Aaron, Daniel, Writers on the Left, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1977.

Agee, James, Agee on Film, McDowell, Obolensky, 1958.

Axelrod, Stephen Gould, Robert Lowell: Life and Art, Princeton University Press, 1978.

Balakian, Nona, The Armenian-American Writer, AGBU, 1958.

Balakian, Nona, Critical Encounters, Bobbs-Merrill, 1978.

Balakian, Nona, The World of William Saroyan: A Literary Interpretation, Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 1997.

Calonne, David Stephen, William Saroyan: My Real Work Is Being, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1983.

Contemporary Dramatists, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 29, 1984, Volume 34, 1985, Volume 56, 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, 1981, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945, 1981, Volume 86: American Short Story Writers 1910-1945, First Series, 1989.

If you enjoy the works of William Saroyan

If you enjoy the works of William Saroyan, you may also want to check out the following:

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939.

Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion, 1964.

Charles Bukowski, Tales of Ordinary Madness, 1984.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1981, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

Drama for Students, Volume 17, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.

Esslin, Martin, The Theatre of the Absurd, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1961.

Floan, Howard R., William Saroyan, Twayne (New York, NY), 1966.

Foard, Elisabeth C., William Saroyan: A Reference Guide, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1989.

Foster, Edward Halsey, William Saroyan, Boise State University (Boise, ID), 1984.

Foster, Edward Halsey, William Saroyan: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1991.

French, Warren, editor, The Thirties: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Everett/Edwards, 1967.

Gassner, John, The Theatre in Our Times, Crown (New York, NY), 1954.

Geismar, Maxwell, Writers in Crisis: The American Novel, 1925-1940, Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 1966.

Gifford, Barry, and Lawrence Lee, Saroyan: A Biography, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.

Gold, Herbert, A Walk on the West Side: California on the Brink, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1981.

Hamalian, Leo, editor, William Saroyan: The Man and the Writer Remembered, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Rutherford, NJ), 1987.

Hofmann, W. J. V., William Saroyan, Galleon Press, 1935.

Kazin, Alfred, Starting out in the Thirties, Vintage (New York, NY), 1980.

Keyishian, Harry, Critical Essays on William Saroyan, Prentice Hall, 1995.

Kherdian, David, A Bibliography of William Saroyan: 1934-1964, Howell, 1965.

Krutch, Joseph Wood, The American Drama since 1918, Braziller (New York, NY), 1957.

Langner, Lawrence, The Magic Curtain, Dutton (New York, NY), 1951.

Lee, Lawrence, and Barry Gifford, Saroyan: A Biography, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Leggett, John, A Daring Young Man: A Biography of William Saroyan, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.

Lipton, Lawrence, The Holy Barbarians, Messner (New York, NY), 1959.

Lurie, Morris, About Burt Britton, John Cheever, Gordon Lish, William Saroyan, Isaac B. Singer, Kurt Vonnegut and Other Matters, Horizon Press, 1978.

Martin, Jay, Always Merry and Bright: The Life of Henry Miller, Penguin (New York, NY), 1980.

McCarthy, Mary, Sights and Spectacles, Farrar (New York, NY), 1956.

Reference Guide to American Literature, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Rosa, Alfred, editor, The Old Century and the New: Essays in Honor of Charles Angoff, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Rutherford, NJ), 1978.

Samuelian, Varaz, Willie and Varaz: Memories of My Friend William Saroyan, Ag Access Corporation, 1985.

Saroyan, Aram, William Saroyan, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1983.

Saroyan, Aram, Last Rites: The Death of William Saroyan, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1983.

Saroyan, William, Not Dying, Barricade Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Short Story Criticism, Volume 21, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Stevens, Wallace, The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination, Knopf (New York, NY), 1951.

Straumann, Heinrich, American Literature in the Twentieth Century, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.

Trilling, Diana, Reviewing the Forties, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1978.

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 137, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.

Weales, Gerald C., American Drama since World War II, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1962.

Whitmore, John, William Saroyan: A Research and Production Sourcebook, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1994.

Wilson, Edmund, The Boys in the Back Room: Notes on California Novelists, Colt Press, 1941.

Wilson, Edmund, Classics and Commercials, Farrar (New York, NY), 1950.


PERIODICALS

American Mercury, September, 1943.

Ararat, spring, 1984, special Saroyan issue, pp. 1-140.

Chicago Tribune Book World, July 5, 1970.

College English, March, 1955, William J. Fisher, "What Ever Happened to Saroyan?," pp. 336-340, 385.

Commonweal, November 4, 1942.

Detroit Free Press, May 22, 1981.

Esquire, October, 1960, Budd Schulberg, "Saroyan: Ease and Unease on the Flying Trapeze," pp. 85-91.

Georgia Review, fall, 1970, Edward Krickel, "Cozzensand Saroyan: A Look at Two Reputations," pp.281-296.

Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1981; June 7, 1981.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 10, 1988, p. 11.

MELUS, winter, 1982, Margaret Bedrosian, "William Saroyan and the Family Matter," pp. 13-24.

Midwest Quarterly, winter, 1985, John A. Mills, "'What. What Not': Absurdity in Saroyan's 'The Time of Your Life,'" pp. 139-159.

Modern Drama, September, 1972, Thelma J. Shinn, "William Saroyan: Romantic Existentialist," pp.185-194.

New Republic, May 12, 1941, Stark Young, "Saroyan Directing, Note," p. 664; October, 12, 1942, Stark Young, "Hello out There" p. 466; March 1, 1943; March 9, 1953.

New York Times Book Review, April 2, 1972; August 15, 1976; May 20, 1979, Herbert Gold, "A Twenty-Year Talk with Saroyan," pp. 7, 49-51; August 21, 1983.

Pacific Spectator, winter, 1947, Frederic I. Carpenter, "The Time of William Saroyan's Life," pp. 88-96.

Punch, January 31, 1973.

Quarterly Journal of Speech, February, 1944.

Saturday Review of Literature, December 28, 1940.

Soviet Literature, number 12, 1977, pp. 159-166.

Theatre Arts, December, 1958.

Times Literary Supplement, June 22, 1973.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 1, 1988, p. 3.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1944.

Western American Literature, winter, 1986, p. 369; fall, 1988, p. 283.

World Literature Today, winter, 1985, p. 100.


OBITUARIES

PERIODICALS

Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1981, p. 2.

Detroit News, May 24, 1981.

Newsweek, June 1, 1981.

New York Times, May 19, 1981.

Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1981.

Time, June 1, 1981.

Washington Post, May 19, 1981.*

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Saroyan, William." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Saroyan, William." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/saroyan-william

"Saroyan, William." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/saroyan-william

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.