Saroyan: The Legacy Lives

Story By: John Esquivel

When most people think of notable Fresno citizens, not too many can come to mind. Recently, we can note former celebrities, pop star’s ex’s, and reality show rejects. However, Fresno has produced some noteworthy citizens. William Saroyan is by far the most notable. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of his works compared to those of Hemingway, Salinger, and Thoreau.
There are still people praising his work even today. Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley considers her first edition of his book, My Name Is Aram, to be one of her most prized possessions. Warren Oakes, drummer of Against Me!, went as far as to get two Saroyan tattoos on his back to show his love of his work.
Even FCC students have things to say about him. “I believe that Saroyan has given Fresno a great sense of pride in our city,” Sarah Betita said. Sarah is an FCC student who claims The Human Comedy is her favorite book. “He portrayed the place Fresno has in history in a way that was accessible to everyone”
William Saroyan was born in Fresno in 1908. Much of the childhood that he spent here later inspired numerous short stories that he would write as an adult.
In fact, Saroyan’s story for the Academy Award winning movie ‘The Human Comedy’ was based off his time at the San Francisco Telegraph Company. He was just a teenager when he took this job.
Saroyan knew he wanted to be a writer after reading some of his father’s work. He was able to get many short stories published as a young adult.
Later, he published many books and plays including The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze, My Name Is Aram, and Tracy’s Tiger. One of Saroyan’s most famous works, “The Time Of Your Life,” won Saroyan a Pulitzer Prize.
Williams went on to travel and take residency all over the world. However, he still had a place for the San Joaquin Valley in his heart.
Many people felt a connection with him when he wrote about such things as World War II or about being Armenian in America. However, Saroyan’s mainstream appeal did not hold up as well as he probably would have liked.
He was later criticized for his style of writing and the sensationalism he created in his stories. Saroyan still continued to write, but he never allowed some of his works to be published or performed. It was only after his death that many of his works saw the light of day.
Today, there is no doubt to Fresno citizens that he is an icon. We have the William Saroyan Theatre in his honor right next to Selland Arena. There are Historical Landmarks that point out where Saroyan once lived and worked. There are even postage stamps created in his honor.
Nationally, people still recognize that he is a great American author, but there is still a lot of work to be done to show people how important his work truly was. “Saroyan was great and his fame fanned out. It is time to reignite it.” This year, Fresno is trying to bring national attention by celebrating Saroyan’s birth centennial. Festivities are already under way and continue throughout the rest of the year.
One of the highlights of the Centennial will be in April, when the Tower Theatre offers showings of Saroyan’s classic story The Human Comedy. Mickey Rooney, the actor who starred in the 1942 film, will also be in attendance. The Centennial is also featuring reading of Saroyan’s books, memorial services, and art exhibitions.
Saroyan is still inspiring many today. At this years Rogue festival, Woodrow Nichols is presenting a play on William Saroyan’s life. “The play is a celebrity roast that takes place during ‘The Tonight in Hell Show’ starring Lucifer.” Nichols said. Luckily for Nichols, it was the perfect time to write the play.
“I read ‘The Daring Young Man’, a biography on Saroyan a year ago, and saw the idea for a play and wrote it, but it was too late for the 2007 Rogue (Festival). Then I discovered that this year was his centennial, and thought what pleasant serendipity,” Nichols said. It will be presented at the end of the month at The Starline.
It’s nice to see that people are embracing the Centennial of his birth rather than forgetting his legacy even after he was gone.
His work not only presents intriguing stories, but also a history lesson that gives us a different look at the way things once were. His life is an example that even we can do whatever we dream and still consider Fresno home.