Candid Conversation

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Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 12,612 words

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[(interview date 25 May 1975) In the following interview, originally conducted in 1975, Saroyan discusses his life and works with Basmadjian.]

(25 May 1975 in Paris)

[Basmadjian]: In February 1934 Story published The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. In October Random House brought out your first book. In less than one year you became one of the most read, discussed writers of the time. You were 26. Looking back forty years, how would you explain your sudden and spectacular appearance in American letters and what was the key of your success?

[Saroyan]: I am obliged to reply that there is an element of the unaccountable in such things. It will be a little bit mistaken for me not to acknowledge the unaccountable. I certainly wanted only to have my writing published, so that I could make a beginning and a living. I was hoping for the kind of reception which would permit me to continue (I had much writing to do) and at the same time not to need any financial assistance from anybody.

Was that the best reception you've gotten as a writer?

I would have to say that I received from the outset perhaps the best that any writer has ever received for a first work. Later, with both My Heart's in the Highlands and The Time of Your Life, there was another order or reception, which had to same mingling of astonishment and gratitude on the part of both the critics and the public in general, that was very pleasing to me. The first book made me famous and made me rich.

Wasn't it too sudden?

Not to me!

Could you resist it?

I didn't want to resist it. I made a fool of myself. I was young. I enjoyed it. I have never been reluctant to make a fool of myself. But we are losing sight of the writing that was involved. My writing also was a kind that somebody might say "Well, you're only making a fool of yourself." There were experimental things, there were unusual things that I was trying for, and so it was not uncommon for me to risk a great deal. Remember that I accepted being a kind of character in the literary world: loud, outspoken, enthusiastic, confident, cocky.

Innocent, Naive.

Well, very naive, but at the same time very sophisticated. A mixture of both, and with the kind of arrogance I think a writer should have. I did not believe for instance, that anybody in America or anywhere else, was writing better than I was writing, or was potentially a better writer than myself. I have no reason to correct that now. If that constitutes my being naive and arrogant and so forth, let it be so. But the writing must not be overlooked as being part of the reason for what happened. There has got to be something. It isn't just nothing that they are writing about. So the real answer to how do you account for...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420051987