He’s an important name in Fresno, and literary history worldwide: Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and author William Saroyan. He’s the namesake of our downtown theater — a bust of his likeness is displayed outside. And in Yerevan, Armenia more than 7,000 miles away, a full Saroyan statue is prominently displayed; larger than life on a busy city street.
William Saroyan was born in Fresno in 1908. Although he lived many places and traveled extensively, he died in Fresno in 1981. A house on West Griffith is where Saroyan spent the last 17 years of his life. And in August of 2018, to mark what would have been his 110th birthday, there is a plan to restore it and re-open it as the Saroyan House Museum.
Avag Simonyan is with the Intellectual Renaissance Foundation in Yerevan, Armenia. A non-profit with a mission to develop Armenian Heritage — even 7,000 miles away, in Fresno, California. Simonyan says the foundation has been studying William Saroyan and his work— much of which embraced his Armenian Heritage. The foundation formed a Saroyan club and holds events to celebrate the writer. Simonyan says when founder, Artur Janibekyan got wind of the poor condition of Saroyan’s last Fresno home, he moved in. “They didn’t preserve Saroyan’s heritage. When our founder heard about that, he decided to bought it immediately. And we bought the house,” Simonyan says.
Janibekyan is financing the entire project, to create a new type of museum. An out-of-the-box tribute that will include Saroyan’s belongings, archives of his work, even a 3-D hologram of the writer himself that visitors can interact with. It’s a concept created through a design contest in Armenia.
A unique tribute to a unique man who took pride in his heritage .”He give us a gift, the whole world a very important heritage because we have to preserve this heritage all over the world,” says Simonyan.
The preservation will begin in the place of Saroyan’s birth: Fresno, with more Saroyan tributes planned elsewhere in the future.