Renowned Writer Kicks Off Lecture Series

Jennifer Bernardo

Internationally acclaimed writer Aram Saroyan spoke to an overflow crowd of more than 250 at Kreider Hall on Jan. 25 in the first of the Lang Lecture series on campus.

There were so many in attendance that the doors had to be kept open to accommodate listeners in the lobby. Inside, attendees scrambled for spaces against the walls and on the steps to the stage.

Saroyan, the son of renowned playwright and short story writer William Saroyan and actress Carol Matthau (both of whom he has written about extensively), came to share the experiences that formed his life as a writer.

The lecture was titled “The Breakthrough Moment” for moments in his life when he experienced clarity and transcendence. Saroyan said that these experiences occurred mainly outside the classroom, but that they were “a tonic for my own development.”

Saroyan calls breakthrough moments experiences where people realize that they are part of something bigger in the world – a recognition of oneness. It is what happens when words disappear for a moment, “somewhere between apprehending and naming.” He has incorporated these experiences into his poetry, which has been described as “minimalist.” His work is noted for an emphasis on visual detail and use of very stark, direct statements.

Saroyan said that a breakthrough moment is analogous to the sensation one experiences when he sees snow falling for the first time. He said that he experienced most of his breakthrough moments while going through the motions of everyday life. One such experience was during his college years as he waited at a bus stop in New York and observed a cluster of women nearby, another as he observed the afternoon sky turning dark.

Saroyan said that he struggled as a college student during his first year, failing four out of five classes. He was also depressed and was referred to the school psychiatrist for turning in a “deficient” report for a philosophy class. The school psychiatrist concluded that he was either mentally defective, or had “study inhibitions.” He jokingly replied, “I’ll take the second.”

Saroyan said his struggles in college turned him away from the university system.

Saroyan’s lecture felt more like a poetry reading than a formal lecture. He shared an intimate moment of his life when he came to visit his dying father after being estranged from him for four years. He said that he brought along his daughter to break the ice, and upon entering the hospital room his father gave him a look “with a world of history” between them.

He ended the lecture answering questions from the audience, and signing copies of his books “Friends in the World” and “Day and Night” at the lobby.

Saroyan, who is also a novelist, biographer, memoirist and playwright, is on the faculty of the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC.

The Lang Lecture Series was instituted by Dr. Veloris Lang when she retired as Dean of Letters, Arts and Sciences at GCC in June 2000. Lang requested donations to the lecture fund instead of gifts when she retired in an effort to fund literary lectures at Glendale College.

Contributions to the Lang Lecture Fund can be made through the Glendale College Foundation.