In his day, William Saroyan (1908-1981) was spoken of in the same breath as Steinbeck, Hemingway and Faulkner, both in terms of quality of his prose and in his popularity with readers. Saroyan was a winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award, yet today his works are largely forgotten, even in his hometown of Fresno. Our project aims to change that. An Armenian-American child of immigrants, Saroyan’s works offer deep insights into the human condition, and the lives of immigrants in early 20th century California. He was a novelist, a playwright, an essayist and screenwriter. Author Stephen Fry wrote of Saroyan, “he is one of the most underrated writers of the [20th] century. He takes his place naturally alongside Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner.”
The Time of Our Life takes its name from one of his short stories. The program/podcast is hosted by James Beard award winning author and journalist Mark Arax and Valley Public Radio’s host and producer David Aus. Arax knew Saroyan as a young man, and during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, approached us with the idea of producing a series about the late author, with the idea that his stories were ripe for rediscovery with a fresh relevance for the COVID-19 era.
After obtaining approval for the use of the intellectual property from the Saroyan Estate (controlled by Stanford University) our team produced seven episodes, featuring readings of many of his short stories, and discussion about Saroyan, his writings, and our present era. The entire project was put together in the span of two months, and due to COVID-19, it was produced remotely, with Arax, Aus and their guests never once meeting face to face or being in the same studio. Arax and Aus selected a handful of diverse voices to be guest readeron the programs from Fresno’s rich literary community, (the city has been home to two of the last six US Poets Laureate), including Daniel Chacon, Marisol Baca, Brynn Saito and Aris Janigian. The group reflects the diversity of our community in Central California, and helps to bring Saroyan’s work to new audiences and communities.
We also worked hard to make sure this program was responsive to the extraordinary times in which we live. As Mark Arax writes: “Saroyan’s voice is a perfect one for our time–the time of coronavirus. The urban roar has become a whisper. Everything has been reduced to the elemental. We live each day for a moment—the deep breath of a hike, the feel of the sun, the taste of a meal we have cooked ourselves. We’ve returned to Saroyan time.” Our discussion segments in each program help make the connection between Saroyan’s time and the present day.
We are now in discussions with the Fresno Unified School District to adapt/develop our materials about Saroyan for use in the classroom, and meet curriculum goals. We are also in the early planning stages for an online socially distant fundraising event with Arax discussing Saroyan with attendees, as well as other topics.