August 31 is the birthday of great American Armenian writer William Saroyan.
William Saroyan was born on August 31, 1908 in Fresno, California to Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, Armenian immigrants from Bitlis, Ottoman Empire. His father came to New York in 1905 and started preaching in Armenian Apostolic Churches.
At the age of three, after his father’s death, Saroyan, along with his brother and sister, was placed in an orphanage in Oakland, California. Five years later, the family reunited in Fresno.
Saroyan decided to become a writer after his mother showed him some of his father’s writings. A few of his early short articles were published in Overland Monthly. His first stories appeared in the 1930s.
“The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness.”
William Saroyan, My Heart’s in the Highlands
Among these was “The Broken Wheel”, written under the name Sirak Goryan and published in the Armenian journal Hairenik in 1933. Many of Saroyan’s stories were based on his childhood experiences among the Armenian-American fruit growers of the San Joaquin Valley or dealt with the rootlessness of the immigrant. The short story collection My Name is Aram (1940), an international bestseller, was about a young boy and the colorful characters of his immigrant family. It has been translated into many languages.
As a writer, Saroyan made his breakthrough in Story magazine with The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934), the title taken from the nineteenth century song of the same title. The protagonist is a young, starving writer who tries to survive in a Depression-ridden society.
“It is simply in the nature of Armenian to study, to learn, to question, to speculate, to discover, to invent, to revise, to restore, to preserve, to make, and to give.”
Saroyan published essays and memoirs, in which he depicted the people he had met on travels in the Soviet Union and Europe, such as the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and Charlie Chaplin. In 1952, Saroyan published The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills, the first of several volumes of memoirs.
Saroyan died in Fresno, of cancer at age 71. Half of his ashes were buried in California and the remainder in Armenia at Komitas Pantheon near film director Sergei Parajanov.
The Fresno home where the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and playwright lived out his final years opened to the public as an interactive museum in 2018.
On that occasion the Fresno City Council issued a proclamation declaring Friday August 31st, 2018 as William Saroyan Day in the City of Fresno.