William Saroyan on Lying in Fiction and in Life

With searing candor, author William Saroyan probes the writer’s private world and what it really means to ‘live the literary life.’

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In 1964, the Post asked William Saroyan, the Armenian-American author of The Human Comedy, My Name Is Aram, and numerous other novels, to expound on his life as a professional author. “The literary life is a good life,” he writes. “It’s certainly as good as the medical life, the legal life, or the political life. It may even be as good as the religious life and the scientific life. The question is, is it life?”

In his essay “It’s Me, O Lord!” — a fantasia that follows his train of thought from cigarettes to confidence and self-doubt to the unstoppable aging of the body and of one’s body of work and ultimately to the consequences of lying in fiction and in life — Saroyan answers this question confidently. But that answer just leads to more questions, laying out the writer’s inner world of doubt.

At 55, Saroyan was a well-known, accomplished, and successful novelist, but still he was “always, always not sure I ever worked hard enough, or learned as much as I should have learned.” Readers contemplating living a literary life for themselves can find in his words either a monument to professional angst or a validation that their own doubt and second-guessing simply come with the territory.

In the end, Saroyan writes, “I don’t mind living the literary life, I live it the best way I know how.” And isn’t that the best we can expect of him, and of ourselves?

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Read William Saroyan’s “It’s Me, O Lord!” originally published April 18, 1964. Become a subscriber to gain access to all of the issues of The Saturday Evening Post dating back to 1821.

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