Author and journalist Mark Arax, whose new book “West of the West” is receiving high praise from literary critics, will be delivering the keynote address on April 24 in Glendale to commemorate the 1915-1918 Armenian Genocide.
On April 23, Arax will appear at the Barnes & Noble at the Americana to read from his new book, which is rich in Armenian themes, including the psychological toll of Turkey’s continued refusal to admit to the crime of genocide. The next day, the former Los Angeles Times writer will gather with a throng of Armenians at the Alex Theater in Glendale to remember the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide, a crime that Turkey still refuses to recognize.
“I feel greatly honored to be asked by the city and the Armenian community to give this address,” Arax said. “In a strange way, the Armenian Genocide, as a matter of history, is more alive today than it has ever been. Armenian political groups, writers, film makers and students are largely to credit. But ironically, it is Turkey’s continued campaign of denial that has helped keep it very much alive.”
Arax’s new book, which officially hits the bookstores this week, begins with his own grandfather’s journey out of the Armenian genocide and ends with his father’s murder in Fresno, finally solved after 30 years. In between are ten stories–including “The Legend of Zankou” and “Confessions of an Armenian Moonshiner,” that dig deeply and eloquently into California and America, in a new century.
Critics are comparing the stories in “West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State” to the great social portraits written by William Saroyan and Joan Didion. Publishers Weekly gave Arax’s new collection its highest rating:
“These swift, penetrating essays from former Los Angeles Times writer Arax take measure of contemporary California with a sure and supple hand. For Arax, a third-generation Californian of Armenian heritage, the state’s outr? reputation and self-representation are a complex dance of myth and memory that includes his own family lore and personal history.
“It is partly this personal connection, running subtly but consistently throughout, that pushes the collection past mere reportage to a high literary enterprise that beautifully integrates the private and idiosyncratic with the sweep of great historical forces.”
The Los Angeles Times, in an April 19 main Sunday review, praised Arax’s “intimate dramas” shaped by the “intense subtleties of his writing.”
“He goes at events with the fierce bulldog tenacity that is one of his trademarks as a writer,” The Times noted. “Charged and highly moving stuff.”
Arax is considered one of the nation’s finest journalists. For twenty years, his stories at the Los Angles Times exposed human rights abuses and official cover-up in California prisons and changed state laws that govern air quality and the treatment of farm workers in the fields.
His two previous books have garnered high praise from critics for their literary and investigative qualities. His first book, In My Father’s Name, is a stirring memoir that weaves together the history of his Armenian family and hometown of Fresno with his decades-long search to find the men who murdered his father in 1972.
His second book, the bestselling The King of California tells the epic story of the Boswell farming family and the building of a secret American empire in the heart of California . Named one of the top ten books of the year by the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, The King of California won a 2004 California Book Award and the 2005 William Saroyan International Writing Prize.
Arax left the L.A. Times in 2007 after the paper’s managing editor decided to censor his story on the denial of the Armenian Genocide. The editor said Arax could not write the story because he is an Armenian. After a public fight, in which tens of thousands of Armenians nationwide protested to the paper in letters and phone calls, Arax was forced to leave the Times. The managing editor who censored Arax’s story was then fired.
He is the senior policy director for the California Senate Majority leaders and is teaching literary nonfiction part-time at Claremont McKenna.