William Saroyan The Man

Photographer Harry Koundakjian remembers William Saroyan on the anniversary of the writer’s birthday

William Saroyan was born in Fresno on August 31–1908 and left us in 1981. He was an internationally renowned Armenian-American writer–playwright–and humanitarian. His fame and his most enduring achievemen’s as a writer date back to the 1930’s.

His talent was first projected onto the world through the medium of an Armenian-English newspaper–Hairenik of Boston. With the publication of his first book–The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze–written at the age of 26–he became an overnight literary sensation.

In 1939–the play "Time of Your Life" was given the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. But Saroyan declined the prize–saying that art should not be awarded with prizes–especially by the rich who had no understanding of such things. He did–however–accept the Drama Critic’s Circle Award in that same year.

His novels–"My Name Is Aram" and "The Human Comedy," were books-of-the-month in the 1940s. "The Human Comedy," was turned into a movie in 1940–and the Academy Award for best picture and original story for the play.

During his lifetime–Saroyan published over sixty books that have been translated into more than two dozen languages–selling millions.

In the last book published during his lifetime–Saroyan wrote: "My work is writing–but my real work is being."

He spoke to and for Armenia’s–and gave international recognition to his people at a time when they were met with prejudice and outright hatred. By international standards–he is very likely the most famous literary figure produced by his ancient people.

In May 1981–William Stonehill Saroyan died of prostate cancer at the age of 72. "Everybody has got to die," he said–"but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case; now what?" He loved America but he did not forget Armenia. One year after he died–half of Saroyan’s cremated remains were permanently placed in the Pantheon of Greats in Yerevan–Armenia–while the other half remained in Fresno–California.

In 1991–William Saroyan was the first and only individual to be jointly honored by the USA–as part of its Literary Arts Series–and the USSR Postal Services on their Commemorative Postal Stamps.

Harry Koundakjian is the Associated Press’s chief photographer in charge of all 13 Arab countries in the Middle East–North and East Africa–Turkey–and Iran. Koundakjian has been everywhere imaginable and covered everyone from royalty to revolutionary. He has had entre into public and private events–has recorded death and destruction–and captured life at it highest and lowest momen’s. His photographs tell innumerable stories.

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