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William Saroyan was born on August 31, 1908in Fresno, California to Armenak and TakoohiSaroyan, Armenian immigrants fromBitlis, Ottoman Empire.At the age of three, after his fathersdeath, Saroyan, along with his brother andsister, was placed in an orphanage inOakland, California. He later went on todescribe his experience in the orphanage in hiswritings. Five years later, the family reunited inFresno, where his mother, Takoohi, had alreadysecured work at a cannery. He continued hiseducation on his own, supporting himself withjobs, such as working as an office manager forthe San Francisco Telegraph Company.
Saroyan decided to become a writer after his mother showed him some of his fathers writings.A few of his early short articles were published in Overland Monthly. His first stories appeared inthe 1930s. Among these was "The Broken Wheel", written under the name Sirak Goryan andpublished in the Armenian journal Hairenik in 1933. Many of Saroyans stories were based on hischildhood experiences among the Armenian-American fruit growers of the San Joaquin Valley ordealt 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 hisimmigrant family. It has been translated into many languages.
Saroyan published essays and memoirs, inwhich he depicted the people he had met ontravels in the Soviet Union and Europe, such asthe playwright George Bernard Shaw, theFinnish composer Jean Sibelius and CharlieChaplin. In 1952, Saroyan published TheBicycle Rider in Beverly Hills, the first of severalvolumes of memories.
His advice to a young writer was: "Try to learnto breathe deeply; really to taste food whenyou eat, and when you sleep really to sleep.Try as much as possible to be wholly alive withall your might, and when you laugh, laugh likehell.Several of Saroyans works were drawn fromhis own experiences, although his approach toautobiographical fact contained a fair bit ofpoetic license.
In some respects, Saroyans charactersresemble the penniless writer in Knut Hamsun1890 novel Hunger, but lack the anger andnihilism of Hamsuns narrator. The story wasrepublished in a collection whose royaltiesenabled Saroyan to travel to Europe andArmenia.s
Saroyan is probably best remembered for hisplay The Time of Your Life (1939), set in awaterfront saloon in San Francisco. It won aPulitzer Prize.Before the war, Saroyan worked on thescreenplay of Golden Boy (1939), based onClifford Odets play, but he never had muchsuccess in Hollywood and after hisdisappointment with the Human Comedy filmproject, he never permitted any Hollywoodscreen adaptation of any of his novelsregardless of his financial straits.
In the novellas The Assyrian and other stories (1950) and in The Laughing Matter (1953) Saroyanmixed allegorical elements within a realistic novel. The plays Sam Egos House (1949) and TheSlaughter of the Innocents (1958) were not as successful as his prewar plays. Many of Saroyanslater plays, such as The Paris Comedy (1960), The London Comedy (1960), and Settled Out ofCourt (1969), premiered in Europe. Manuscripts of a number of unperformed plays are now atStandford University with his other papers.When Ernest Hemingway learned that Saroyan had made fun of the controversial non-fictionwork Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway responded: "Weve seen them come and go. Goodones too. Better ones than you, Mr. Saroyan."
Saroyan has a correspondence with writerSanora Babb that began in 1932 and ended in1941, that grew into an unrequited love affairon Saroyans part.In 1943, Saroyan marriedactress Carol Marcus (1924–2003; also knownas Carol Grace), with whom he had twochildren, Aram, who became an author andpublished a book about his father, andLucy, who became an actress.