Emeritus Professor Celebrates Saroyan Centennial on a World Scale

FRESNO–One of the William Saroyan centennial’s busiest celebran’s is Dr. Dickran Kouymjian, Haig & Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies, Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, who has traveled extensively marking the renowned author’s life and works.

Saroyan was born 100 years ago in Fresno and died there in 1981. In a career that included writing short stories, books, plays, even song lyrics, Saroyan won an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize (which he refused). He was also an artist and filmmaker.

Often his stories and characters grew out of his early years in Fresno’s Armenian community, but they also were shaped by visits and living in Europe, San Francisco, Hollywood and New York.

In sharing his expertise on the author, Kouymjian, whose home is in Paris, has experienced something of Saroyan’s peripatetic life. And his travels won’t end until spring. His “Year of Saroyan” began in April when he participated in and helped Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian organize an international symposium, “William Saroyan at 100,” at Fresno State.

In July, Kouymjian traveled to Yerevan, Armenia, for the Golden Apricot Armenian International Film Festival to screen Saroyan’s film, “The Good Job,” subtitled in Armenian, and the Oscar-winning “The Human Comedy.” He also presented a workshop on Saroyan and cinema.

In September, Kouymjian discussed Saroyan’s literary work during Armenian Culture Days at the Vigdis Finnboggad?ttir Institute of Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland in Reykjav?k. He returned to Paris to present a paper, “Saroyan as Painter,” at a conference of the Association Internationale des Etudes Armeniennes at the Sorbonne.

On October 8-10, Kouymjian lectured and also chaired two roundtable discussions at an international Saroyan conference he helped organize in Yerevan, Armenia. Four of the five participants in the Saroyan symposium at Fresno State joined him in Yerevan. Attendance by Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, the newly appointed American ambassador, Mary Jovanovich, and Hasmik Pogosyan, Armenia’s Minister of Culture, indicate Saroyan’s stature in his ancestral land.

In Yerevan, Kouymjian also instructed young theater directors on how to direct and stage Saroyan’s later plays. Fresno State’s own Ed EmmanuEl staged one of such a work, “Slaughter of the Innocents,” at the same time Kouymjian was lecturing in Armenia.

Another Kouymjian project is “Saroyan in Paris,” a tribute to be held on Dec. 1 at the Musee de la Vie romantique. The museum is in the 9th Arrondisement (called Opera district) near the apartment where Saroyan spent part of nearly each year from 1960 until just before his death.

Scheduled are a dramatic reading by Reine Bart?ve of Saroyan’s, “The Armenian Mouse,” a piano concert of his music by Vahan Mardirossian, who played in the Philip Lorenz Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State in 2005, and a screening of the Saroyan film, “The Good Job.” Kouymjian will present an illustrated talk about Saroyan’s time in Paris.

Also on Kouymjian’s Saroyan schedule is a photographic exhibit in Istanbul, Turkey, late this year, a March tribute in Amsterdam and writing an introduction to the publication by the Press at CSUF and the Fresno Bee of Saroyan’s early novel, “Follow,” planned by year’s end.

Kouymjian retired last year from director of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State, which he established in 1977. The campus also is home to the Center for Armenian Studies, which offers an opportunity for students and faculty to interact.

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