Authors: William Saroyan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American short-story writer, playwright, and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories, 1934

Inhale and Exhale, 1936

Three Times Three, 1936

The Gay and Melancholy Flux: Short Stories, 1937

Little Children, 1937

Love, Here Is My Hat, and Other Short Romances, 1938

The Trouble with Tigers, 1938

Three Fragments and a Story, 1939

Peace, It’s Wonderful, 1939

My Name Is Aram, 1940

Saroyan’s Fables, 1941

The Insurance Salesman, and Other Stories, 1941

Forty-eight Saroyan Stories, 1942

Some Day I’ll Be a Millionaire: Thirty-four More Great Stories, 1944

Dear Baby, 1944

The Saroyan Special: Selected Stories, 1948

The Fiscal Hoboes, 1949

The Assyrian, and Other Stories, 1950

The Whole Voyald, and Other Stories, 1956

William Saroyan Reader, 1958

Love, 1959

After Thirty Years: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, 1964

Best Stories of William Saroyan, 1964

The Tooth and My Father, 1974

The Man with His Heart in the Highlands, and Other Stories, 1989

Long Fiction:

The Human Comedy, 1943

The Adventures of Wesley Jackson, 1946

Rock Wagram, 1951

Tracy’s Tiger, 1951

The Laughing Matter, 1953 (reprinted as The Secret Story, 1954)

Mama I Love You, 1956

Papa You’re Crazy, 1957

Boys and Girls Together, 1963

One Day in the Afternoon of the World, 1964


The Hungerers: A Short Play, pb. 1939

My Heart’s in the Highlands, pr., pb. 1939

The Time of Your Life, pr., pb. 1939

Love’s Old Sweet Song, pr., pb. 1940

Three Plays: “My Heart’s in the Highlands,” “The Time of Your Life,” “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” pb. 1940

Subway Circus, pb. 1940

The Ping-Pong Game, pb. 1940 (one act)

The Beautiful People, pr. 1940

The Great American Goof, pr. 1940

Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning, pr., pb. 1941

Three Plays: “The Beautiful People,” “Sweeney in the Trees,” “Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning,” pb. 1941

Hello Out There, pr. 1941 (one act)

Jim Dandy, pr., pb. 1941

Razzle Dazzle, pb. 1942 (collection)

Talking to You, pr., pb. 1942

Get Away Old Man, pr. 1943

Sam Ego’s House, pr. 1947

A Decent Birth, a Happy Funeral, pb. 1949

Don’t Go Away Mad, pr., pb. 1949

The Slaughter of the Innocents, pb. 1952

The Cave Dwellers, pr. 1957

Once Around the Block, pb. 1959

Sam the Highest Jumper of Them All: Or, The London Comedy, pr. 1960

Settled Out of Court, pr. 1960

The Dogs: Or, The Paris Comedy, and Two Other Plays, pb. 1969

An Armenian Trilogy, pb. 1986 (includes Armenians, Bitlis, and Haratch)

“Warsaw Visitor” and “Tales from the Vienna Streets”: The Last Two Plays of William Saroyan, pb. 1991


The Time of Your Life, 1939

Harlem as Seen by Hirschfield, 1941

Hilltop Russians in San Francisco, 1941

Why Abstract?, 1945 (with Henry Miller and Hilaire Hiler)

The Twin Adventures: The Adventures of William Saroyan, 1950

The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills, 1952

Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who, 1961

A Note on Hilaire Hiler, 1962

Not Dying, 1963

Short Drive, Sweet Chariot, 1966

Look at Us, 1967

I Used to Believe I Had Forever: Now I’m Not So Sure, 1968

Letters from 74 Rue Taitbout, 1969

Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon, 1970

Places Where I’ve Done Time, 1972

Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang in Forever, 1976

Chance Meetings, 1978

Obituaries, 1979

Births, 1983

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Me, 1963

Horsey Gorsey and the Frog, 1968

The Circus, 1986


My Name Is Saroyan, 1983 (stories, verse, play fragments, and memoirs)

The New Saroyan Reader, 1984 (Brian Darwent, editor)


During the 1930’s and 1940’s, William Saroyan (suh-ROY-uhn) was one of the best-known, most critically admired, and most popular American writers. His affirmation of humane values in the face of adversity, oppression, and human error was a source of comfort to the reading public, and his audacious stylistic experiments won for him the praise of critics. Later, Saroyan continued to write as much and as well as he had before, but the world changed–and with it critical reception and public taste. After Saroyan’s death in 1981, however, audiences began to rediscover an author who was a unique blend of public figure, entertainer, and artist.{$I[AN]9810000841}{$I[A]Saroyan, William}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Saroyan, William}{$I[tim]1908;Saroyan, William}

William Saroyan

(D.C. Public Library)

William Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, to Armenian immigrants; he was the only one of his siblings to have been born in the United States. Saroyan was proud of his Armenian heritage and rarely allowed his readers to forget his ancestry for more than a few pages. Early in life he experienced two devastating losses: His father, a preacher and writer, died of appendicitis when Saroyan was three, and his mother, unable to care for her children while she worked, put them in an orphanage, where Saroyan lived for the next five years, effectively losing his mother as well.

Because of these experiences, Saroyan was determined not to be defeated by life, and he threw himself into his work with intense energy. He decided early to become a writer, and in 1934 he became a nationwide success with the story “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” Its theme of the irrelevance of the artist in a brutal commercial society made the story socially significant, and the stream-of-consciousness technique fascinated critics, who saw in its writer an innovative talent.

Saroyan came from an oral literary tradition based on storytelling, a fact reflected in his next two successes. For a person who is accustomed to spoken art, playwriting seemed natural; Saroyan’s play The Time of Your Life, set in a San Francisco bar and peopled with a collection of eccentrics, was the hit of the 1939 Broadway season and received the Pulitzer Prize, which Saroyan refused with characteristic quirkiness, stating that monied interests should not patronize art. The play’s central character is a boozy philosopher named Joe who gently solves the problems of the people who inhabit the bar. After this early success, Broadway was unreceptive to Saroyan, and he did not have another work produced in New York until The Cave Dwellers, although he continued to write plays. Another success based on Saroyan’s use of oral tradition was the collection of stories My Name Is Aram. The stories are about a boy maturing in an Armenian community in California. Many of them are based on incidents in Saroyan’s life, particularly the continuing influence of a series of slightly mad uncles, who serve the boy as a sort of extended family.

In the 1940’s, Saroyan became a favorite of Louis B. Mayer, head of the leading Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The result of this friendship was Saroyan’s most successful work, The Human Comedy, which was first produced as a film starring Mickey Rooney and Van Johnson, the screenplay of which Saroyan converted into a best-selling novel. The Human Comedy draws on Saroyan’s own life; the hero, Homer Macaulay, is a telegraph messenger boy, just as Saroyan had been in his youth. The novel concerns the coming-of-age of the boy and the learning experiences of his young brother Ulysses, as the family must finally face the tragic news that the oldest son, Marcus, has been killed in the war.

Saroyan was drafted in 1943 and assigned the job of writing training films. World War II was a turning point for his artistic career as well as his personal life. In 1943 he married socialite Carol Marcus; together they would have two children. Although the marriage ended in divorce, Saroyan once again married Marcus in 1951, with even more disastrous consequences and another divorce. The critics and the public turned against him after he published an idiosyncratic novel, The Adventures of Wesley Jackson, which, both critics and the public complained, had missed the point of what the Fascists had done to the world. After Auschwitz, Saroyan’s wistful affirmation seemed a weak response.

During the last two decades of his life, Saroyan found some degree of emotional stability and shuttled between a Paris flat and two tract houses in Fresno, one of which was completely filled with memorabilia. For years before his death, it was fashionable to say that Saroyan was a sentimentalist who had lost touch with the realities of twentieth century life. Yet Saroyan’s alleged sentimentality was a reaction to life’s tragedy, not a retreat from it; Saroyan would not allow sweetness and hope to die no matter what the world did to him. That affirmation and that struggle are also evident in Saroyan’s enormous literary output, which continued even after critics and most of the public had rejected him.

BibliographyBalakian, Nona. The World of William Saroyan. Lewisburg, Ohio: Bucknell University Press, 1998. Balakian, formerly a staff writer for The New York Times Book Review, knew Saroyan personally in his last years, and her observations of him color her assessment of his later works. She viewed it as her mission to resurrect his reputation and restore him to his place among the finest of twentieth century American writers. Traces his evolution from ethnic writer to master of the short story, to playwright, and finally to existentialist.Dyer, Brenda. “Stories About Stories: Teaching Narrative Using William Saroyan’s ‘My Grandmother Lucy Tells a Story Without a Beginning, a Middle, or an End.’” In Short Stories in the Classroom, edited by Carole L. Hamilton and Peter Kratzke. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Offers some suggestions for teaching Saroyan’s story as a story about storytelling; argues that the story provides tools that empower and enrich when taught this way.Floan, Howard R. William Saroyan. New York: Twayne, 1966. Floan’s study remains one of the best extensive critical monographs on Saroyan’s work. It focuses on Saroyan’s early literature, glossing over the post-World War II period as less productive and durable. Contains a valuable annotated bibliography through 1964.Foster, Edward Halsey. William Saroyan. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1984. A condensed but helpful survey stressing Saroyan’s unique voice. This work draws parallels between his work and that of the Beat generation.Foster, Edward Halsey. William Saroyan: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1991. An introduction to Saroyan’s short stories that discusses his use of the oral tradition, his Armenian heritage, and his usual themes and experimental techniques. Includes Saroyan’s own comments on his fiction as well as previously published essays by other critics.Haslam, Gerald W. “William Saroyan.” In A Literary History of the American West, edited by Thomas J. Lyon et al. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University, 1987. A good introductory essay. Haslam focuses on Saroyan’s post-World War II decline in popularity and its cause. Includes a select bibliography.Haslam, Gerald W. “William Saroyan and San Francisco: Emergence of a Genius (Self-Proclaimed).” In San Francisco in Fiction: Essays in a Regional Literature, edited by David Fine and Paul Skenazy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995. Discusses the influence of San Francisco in a number of Saroyan’s stories. Suggests that his stylistic triumph in “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” is to force the readers to become co-creators in the story.Keyishian, Harry, ed. Critical Essays on William Saroyan. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995. A collection of essays on Saroyan, from early reviews to critical articles. Helpful essays to a study of Saroyan’s short stories are Edward Halsey Foster’s discussion of Saroyan’s relationship to Gertrude Stein and Walter Shear’s essay on Saroyan’s ethnicity.Kherdian, David. A Bibliography of William Saroyan, 1934-1964. San Francisco: R. Beachman, 1965. Although in need of updating, this volume is a thorough and indispensable bibliographical guide to both primary and secondary works.Lee, Lawrence, and Barry Gifford. Saroyan: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1984. Lee and Gifford’s study is rich with anecdotes and segments of interviews with Saroyan’s family, friends, and associates. Supplemented by a chronology and a bibliography.Leggett, John. A Daring Young Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Leggett relies heavily on Saroyan’s journals to produce a sustained glimpse of the author that is neither admiring nor forgiving.Whitmore, Jon. William Saroyan: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Whitmore provides a bibliography citing resources to help determine how Saroyan’s plays were staged and produced. Indexes.
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