In an essay published in 1964 in Ararat magazine, Leon Surmelian perceived the Armenian-American as the prototypical outsider: "The alienated and ambivalent, the beatnik and the hipster, recognize a fellow-American in the Armenian writer, and the Armenian writer knows his way around in the American underground, he is a subterranean by a long historical conditioning of his race." As the most famous Armenian-American author, William Saroyan would explore deeply themes of alienation and also celebrate the innocence, beauty, evanescence and fragility of life. Jack Kerouac read and loved Saroyan's short stories and saw his play The Beautiful People in New York and would cite Saroyan as a major influence on his own development as a writer. Kerouac discussed his admiration for Saroyan in his Paris Review interview and Saroyan is mentioned by name in On the Road during Sal Paradise's travels through California. This lecture will explore the influence of Saroyan on Kerouac and the Beats. David Calonne will also discuss the ways later Armenian-American writers such as David Kherdian and Peter Najarian continued in their work Saroyan's quest for deeper spiritual and humane values, a quest which would also come to define the American counterculture.
Dumanian Lecture Series with Professor David Calonne
March 5, 2020 | 6:30PM
Pick Hall, Room 016