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This article is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

Notes on Being My Own Bibliographer Aram Saroyan

In 1943, the year I was born, Edmund Wilson wrote ‘Thoughts on Being Bibliographed’, an essay in which he noted that his own generation’s enthusiasm for modernism had not extended to a new generation of literary academics, who preferred to compile a bibliography of Wilson’s writing – when he was still in his forties – rather than write their own essays or stories. By the time I attended high school in the late 1950s and early 1960s, modernism, no doubt partly owing to the efforts of the intervening generation, had achieved such pre-eminence in our assigned texts – and in our young minds – that it was virtually all we knew: James Joyce to e.e. cummings to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Hemingway to Gertrude Stein’s maxim ‘A rose is a rose is a rose’. As the son of William Saroyan, a writer who had been part of the last wave of American modernists, I knew the example very close at hand.

Ironically, with modernism so firmly entrenched, the official culture of America wasn’t very welcoming to the next wave of literary artists. When the Beat Generation erupted during my high-school years they were treated derisively in media that now included the television series The Life and Loves of Dobie Gillis with its ‘Beatnik’, Maynard G. Krebs, supposedly a satiric version of Allen Ginsberg.

And so, not long after that, when I began myself as a writer, I hadn’t much sense of continuing in a family line, of taking my place in a viable profession practised by my father ...

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