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Saroyan's legend grows in Fresno

American literature fans were given the opportunity to walk through the footsteps of local Fresno legend and award-winning playwright, William Saroyan, on April 28. Participants of the 17th annual Saroyan Walk embarked on a free tour through old Armenian town in downtown Fresno, visiting 12 landmarks important to Saroyan, as well as to the Fresno Armenian community.

As a former member of the city Fresno, Saroyan interacted with the community in was a way that had a direct impact. Jeffery Torosian, ?03, is the grandson of the former Armenian wrestler Nazaret Torosian.

In Chance Meetings, Saroyan’s autobiography, Saroyan devotes the entire last chapter to the time when he and Mr. Torosian worked together in a vineyard. Saroyan wrote that, “He is one of the few people I believe I have eve learned a little something or other from.”

The chapter explained how Mr. Torosian influenced the author with talk about how his success as a wrestler was a result of Christian faith, combined with his Armenian nationality.

“He [Saroyan] gave my great-grandfather a crib for my grandfather as a gift,” Jeff Torosian said. “My grandfather remembers Saroyan riding his bike to talk with my great-grandfather under a fig tree for hours.”

Another on campus connection is the reading of Saroyan’s The Human Comedy in the spring for all freshmen English classes.

“I liked the way Saroyan created his experiences of Fresno,” Hillary Kell, ?04, said. “I also thought it was interesting that he told his autobiography in a third person narrative.”

“The Human Comedy is a story of an epic hero,” Jeff Torosian said. “It teaches respect and students can easily relate to it.”

Saroyan novel is primarily based on Fresno and his influence has reached across the country.

“One need not have been raised in Fresno to appreciate Saroyan,” Stephen Greese, a guess writer to the LA Times, (March 26, 1997 p A3r) writes, “though I suppose it helps. Certainly he, better than anybody, captured the Valley’s strange texture: the mishmash landscape of farm, town and deserts; the jostling of so many different peoples, all a bit bewildered at finding themselves thrown together.”

Some disagree with Greese’s statement about Saroyan’s works.
In an article critical of the Armenian Society, Jessica Abbsis writes” Certainly Fresnans never forgave Saroyan for his harsher observations about the old hometown.

“The more political Armenians complained he wasted too many words on the human comedy, and not enough on the tragedy of a lost homeland. That he wrote so personally, and from the heart, gave literary critics their target: He was, they scolded, an undisciplined sentimentalist, mawkish.”

Yet in Armenian society, Saroyan works are often frowned upon.

Abbsis also adds, “Saroyan today is held under book-land quarantine. Few of his titles are in print. He’s barely taught in schools. His own plans for literary legacy-a writers-in-residence program, posthumous publication of many works-have been scrapped or stalled. They did name a theater after him in Fresno, the one thing he expressly requested not be done.”

While the city has recognized Saroyan by naming the theater after him, the community at large has not embraced the writer until the past year in public events.

The Fresno Philharmonic on March 2 presented a concert in honor of William Saroyan at the theater that bears the great writer’s name. Visual art by Saroyan was on display in the theater lounge, and guest conductor Grant Gershon conducted the orchestra in some of Saroyan’s favorite music, including works by Khachaturian, Grieg and Sibelius.

One of FCS alum George Kutnerian, ?01, enjoyed the atmosphere at the theater.

“The music by the philharmonic was appropriate for Saroyan,” Kutnerian said. “The music composed by Khachaturian was one of my favorite pieces of the performance. It had a lot of emotion and feeling.”

Those who remain mesmerized by Saroyan’s work’s are now trying to keep his writing and life alive to the public. One flame keeper is Jacqueline Kazarian, a niece who restored Saroyan’s hillside home here and turned it into a museum of sorts. She gives tours as a way “”to keep his name out there.”

Another means of remembering Saroyan’s spirit is a walking tour of his neighborhood.

The Walking Tour of Saroyan’s Neighborhood will start at the William Saroyan Theater at 9:15 a.m. on April 27. The Fresno Saroyan Society will guide the tour through the neighborhood where Saroyan grew up. During that time, the area was called Armenian Town.

During the way, walkers will reminisce and share stories about the area. Admission is free. For more information call (559) 221-1441 or log onto the Saroyan Society website at www.williamsaroyansociety.org.

For more information on the main Saroyan events throughout the spring, Internet users can log on to the About Town website at www.centralvalley.com/portal/get_out/about_town/.

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