Born in 1908, the fourth child of a poor Armenian immigrant family, the writer William Saroyan grew up in a community that managed to escape the genocide in Armenia. Surrounded by love but not much food, the family struggled to build a new life in the agricultural community of Fresno. At three years old, Saroyan lost his father, Armenak, to a sudden illness. His mother, Takoohi, found work in San Francisco and moved her four children to an orphanage in Oakland where they spent the next five years. Eventually, the Saroyans moved to San Francisco, where William lived for many years. Saroyan used the rich collection of characters in both Fresno and San Francisco to delight readers and ultimately analyze the human condition. Although Saroyan was born in California, he carried with him the trauma of the Armenian Diaspora, viewing his world through two striking lenses that were each unfamiliar to the American public that largely lived on the East Coast.
Even though he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1940 and an Academy Award for Best Story in 1943, Saroyan has disappeared from the American literary canon, a memory shared only by people who came of age before the 1970s. In this talk, Saroyan’s cousin Charles Janigian will demonstrate what made Saroyan so exciting when he burst onto the scene in 1934 with his short stories, and what helped him sustain a writing career until his death in 1981. Janigian will share some of Saroyan’s short stories that illustrate the rhythmic, universal, and timeless nature of Saroyan’s prose, as well as rare artwork and ephemera held at Janigian’s archive, Forever Saroyan, in San Jose. He will show that Saroyan’s words are perhaps more relevant today than at any point in the last 100 years, and how we can reintroduce him to the American audience. This lecture also commemorates Saroyan’s birthday on August 31, 1908.
A live online presentation by Charles Janigian, writer, editor, collector, and managing director for Forever Saroyan, LLC