William Saroyan (1908-1981), a novelist and playwright, was the son of Armenian immigrants. According to williamsaroyansociety.org, his father, who died when William was three years old, had been a preacher in the Armenian Apostolic church in New York, and his father’s writings inspired William to write as well. After his father’s death, he lived in an orphanage in Oakland before he and his siblings reunited with their mother who worked at a cannery in Fresno.
Saroyan’s stories are forever timely in that they speak to immigrant life, especially in the farmlands of Central California. The best known ones include The Armenian and the Armenian, My Heart’s in the Highlands, The Time of Your Life, My Name is Aram, and The Human Comedy.
Today, many of his original works are available for public view at the Fresno Library (in-library use only), which you can read about at fresnolibrary.org/heritage/saroyan.html.
According to the Fresno Library website, “The Heritage Center holds one of the major institutional collections of materials documenting the career of Fresno-born author William Saroyan (1908-1981), consisting of approximately 3,000 items. Copies of Saroyan’s separately-published work (books, pamphlets, broadsides, and plays) can be found in the collection. Also present are original Saroyan letters and manuscripts; Saroyan appearances in anthologies and magazines; articles and books about Saroyan; various types of ephemera related to Saroyan (clippings, play programs, promotional items, etc.); and sound/video items (records, cassettes, sheet music, videorecordings, etc.).”
For a less scholarly experience in Fresno, take in a show at the Saroyan Theatre, named for the writer, which offers family entertainment, concerts, and community events in an elegant auditorium setting.
William Saroyan is the only writer listed on this website who earned and then refused a Pulitzer Prize. The reason is also published in Frances Ring’s A Western Harvest: The Gatherings of an Editor. Ring was the editor of Westways Magazine and formerly the last secretary to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though Ring and Saroyan never met, Ring appreciated the short stories Saroyan contributed to Westways Magazine as well as his thought-provoking letters.
More than 30 years after his death, Saroyan’s work continues to inspire budding writers. “The Stanford University Libraries and the William Saroyan Foundation jointly award the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, a biennial competition for newly-published books,” according to Stanford Universities Libraries.
Read about other literary landmarks in California here: California Literary Landmarks of Author Adventures.