Rendezvous With William Saroyan

“Well for God’s sake, what’s that lousy Armenian son of a bitch doing here?” stated Ernest Hemingway. The more I tried to hush him, the worse it got. Finally Saroyan’s companion… began to come back at Ernest. I am not too sure how it developed, but shortly afterwards I was in a full-scale brawl, rolling about under the tables, and banging the heads of total strangers on the wooden floors. I got the impression that someone bit my ankle…. The management arrived, reinforced I think by the gendarmes, and the whole lot of us were thrown out up the stairs and into the Paris blackout…. The two factions separated…. Ernest was laughing like a hyena.” said an eyewitness.

Saroyan claimed Ernest stole his trimmed down style of writing, even though Hemingway had started writing many years before. In a passage in ‘The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze’ Saroyan spoke of ‘Death in The Afternoon’ by Ernest Hemingway, which he called “a pretty fine piece of prose,” adding that when Ernest Hemingway was a fool, he was “at least an accurate fool.”

Then Ernest Hemingway learned about this and he responded: “We’ve seen them come and go. Good ones too. Better ones than you, Mr. Saroyan.”
The two writers bickered and traded insults until finally Saroyan wrote to Hemingway and the latter answered him “cordially” and a truce ensued.
— Carlos Baker ‘Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story’

I first met Saroyan when I was a student in grade eight in high school. The day he came to our village was a day of festivities for us. We gathered at the main boulevard, students, scouts with their fanfare, the villagers young and old, with the Daoul-Zourna and the traditional drums, to welcome him. Then we accompanied him to our school, where he sat on a classroom desk and spoke to us. He sat on a desk in my classroom and I thought my school will never be the same again.

At that time I hadn’t read much of his work. I had only read his play, ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’, and his book of short stories, ‘My Name is Aram’. In school we did not study Saroyan the writer. We studied Saroyan the Armenian writer. We celebrated his being an Armenian writer more than his being one of the greatest writers in English literature.

How I wish we had studied him when we had studied Ernest Hemingway. How I wish we had studied his short story ‘The Daring Young Man on The Flying Trapeze’ together with Ernest’s ‘A Clean Well Lighted Place’, discussed their similarities and differences in theme, in characters. Hemingway’s minimalist writing style versus Saroyan’s innovative style. The former’s sparing use of description to convey characterizations and action, versus the latter’s originality. Hemingway’s style, known as the iceberg theory or theory of omission, creating a surface story, often omitting or merely hinting at the main point, just like the mass of a real iceberg lies beneath the surface. Saroyan’s tendency to present a uniquely personal vision of humanity in his writing, even though some critics characterized his style as unstructured. Who would think of using the word “unalive” to characterize a dead person other than Saroyan? If only I knew then about Saroyan what I know now.

Mark Twain once said, “I’m always embarrassed when someone compliments me, because they never say enough.”

I feel embarrassed too since I don’t think I can say enough about these two greatest writers of all time. Ernest Hemingway a Nobel prize winning author in literature. William Saroyan an Academy award winning author, for Best Writing Original Story for ‘The Human Comedy’ and a Pulitzer Prize recipient in 1940 for his play ‘The Time of Your Life’. Although he refused the prestigious prize on the grounds that it was “no more great or good” than anything else he had written.

I am not sure if today’s generation reads these writers anymore and as Saroyan wrote;

“The writer who today may seem to be grand, tomorrow may be trash. We write for a human race that is constantly changing.”


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One Response to Rendezvous With William Saroyan

  1. Pingback: If Only The Two Had Met! | Ramblings

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