Saroyan by Design - Inhale & Exhale

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Following the success of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and other stories, William Saroyan was the talk of every literary circle and had already begun to penetrate the zeitgeist as a bon vivant and celebrity. His second major collection, Inhale & Exhale, contained many of Saroyan’s most beloved stories, and certainly demonstrated that Saroyan was no one-hit wonder.  One remarkable aspect of the work is the exceptional design of the book, from the font and interior layout to a dustjacket that stands out among the most striking of all Saroyan’s covers.

Cover495Inhale & Exhale’s dust jacket features a photo of William Saroyan wearing a fedora, apparently looking up towards the sky. The image is displayed in photo negative, giving it an other-worldly appearance. Behind and above Saroyan is a star field with a blooming cluster of light just even with Saroyan’s gaze. This dramatic image would have stood out among covers at the time. While photographs had been used on book covers at times, few fiction books used them. The standard at the time was drawn art or other even simpler graphic designs of the title and author name. This cover went beyond that and created a sensation not unlike what you might find in science fiction magazines of the day, even if Saroyan’s stories themselves were grounded in realism. The cover spoke to the newness of Saroyan’s writing style, perhaps even casting an image that the work contained in the volume was revolutionary and so strange as to compare to the cosmos themselves.

At the time, there was a great passion in the public for early space science and research that was coming out regularly. Work by Edwin Hubble, Robert Goddard, and especially the discovery of Pluto in 1930 had all captured significant headlines and made a massive impact on mainstream American media. When this cover was created, concepts such as how stars emit radio waves and the initial concepts of black holes and white dwarves were becoming familiar, and one of the major sites for discovery and confirmation of these theories was Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Mt. Wilson Observatory stands on the top of Mount Wilson in Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains. In the early 1900s, the observatory was built with several important telescopes, notably the Snow Sun Telescope, donated by Helen Snow, and the 60-inch telescope which was first put into operation in 1908. These were important scopes for the time, but it was the 1917 completion of the 100-inch Hooker telescope, then the largest in the world, that made so many discoveries possible. This included many of Hubble’s discoveries, including Hubble’s Law that states that the universe is expanding. It was also the site of Fritz Zwicky’s work on dark matter. The Observatory was frequently in the news, and the telescopes were regularly used to capture images of deep space that had never been taken before. These images were regularly used in newspapers and magazines describing the amazing discoveries being made at Mount Wilson. The cover of Inhale & Exhale used an image from Mount Wilson, a nebula clearly visible as the central image on the front cover. While the negative image of Saroyan’s head gets more front page real estate, it is that central astronomical body that draws the eye.

While there is no record of who specifically designed the dust jacket, it is well known who designed the book itself. Ernst Reichl was one of the true geniuses in the history of book design. His work began at the age of 11 when he designed a catalog of his father’s books, complete with Gothic initials. He eventually left the Czech Republic for America to avoid being drafted into the military. Though his English was inelegant, he sold German books in New York until he was introduced to publisher Alfred Knopf. Knopf, one of the most important figures in the history of American publishing, immediately saw the talent in Reichl and hired him as a General Designer for his imprint. Reichl eventually moved on to Doubleday, where he served as Art Director and Foreign Editor through 1931. These made him a big name in the industry, and he quickly gained a reputation for quality work. He left Doubleday to work for Wolff Manufacturing, a company that provided design and manufacturing for various publishers, including the major players like Random House. All one has to do is look at his remarkable packaging for The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and other stories to see that the man understood how packaging can bring attention to a book as it sits on a store shelf.

InhaleExhale003The interior book design is incredibly forward-looking. Reichl stated, “The way the title page is split horizontally into nine parts, and the part titles march down the stairs gives the book a sense of time passing while you read—a principle of book designing I have repeatedly tried to pursue: here for the first time.” This sort of conceptualization was a hallmark of Reichl’s work, and one of the reasons that he was a major figure in publishing all the way through his passing in 1980. He was remembered as a legend in the field, and one who not only rode the wave of advances in typography and design technology and use, but also helped define their proper place in the bookmaking market.

ETishWhile the use of a dustjacket image that might have been more likely found on a science fiction novel is fascinating, the most interesting feature is the ampersand on the cover. Investigation has led to no known font that uses that sort of ampersand, and at the same time it actually appears to look more like a stylized version of ‘et’ which is French for ‘and,’ which has the same meaning as an ampersand. The dust jacket is the only place that specific version of the ampersand is used, which speaks to its uniqueness..

Inhale & Exhale is an impressive artifact of Saroyan’s early career, and the design of the work only helped establish it as one of the most impressive collections of Saroyan’s career.


A Look at WILLIAM SAROYAN at Arion Press Gallery

The WILLIAM SAROYAN exhibit at Arion Press Gallery enters its second month. Archivist & Curator Chris Garcia created the walk-through video above on January 26th, 2023 to document the first exhibition of Saroyan art and artifacts in the city he often called home: San Francisco. 

The first days featured a wonderful event screening of Omnibus' episode "A Few Adventures in the California Boyhood of William Saroyan," a guided tour, and a ceremonial signing of William Saroyan & Archie Minasian: The Complete Correspondence, 1929–1981 by Blake Riley and Mary Alexander, the team responsible for the book.

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L. to R. - Chris Garcia, Jonathan Clark, Blake Riley, Mary Alexander, Charles Janigian, Trina Robinson

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Diane Minasian reads a tribute to her father, Khatchik 'Archie' Minasian. 

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WILLIAM SAROYAN will remain on display at Arion Press Gallery through February 24th. Tours are available on February 9th, and 23rd from 10am through 3pm. Admission is free. 

You can find more information at

Forever Saroyan Presents: The Beggars


Hello and welcome to Forever Saroyan Presents – Three Times Three.   

Thank you for your patience as we've been having the holidays here in California as well as opening our exhibit. William Saroyan at the Arion Press Gallery in San Francisco through February 24th.

53d248db 8a1d 45fe 8a19 f398020f4acc 858185781. SX576 SY576 BL0 QL100 UX250 FMwebp QL85 This week we return with the second to last story in the collection – “The Beggars”

“The Beggars” has a brief introduction.

“The Beggars” was written Tuesday, June 2 1936. It was called originally Beggars voices.” I went to Europe in 1935, I was amazed at the poverty of man on earth, everywhere in the world, material poverty and spiritual poverty. I haven't yet begun to say what I know I shall need to say about this.

The story itself is interesting, but the introduction speaks to a number of things in Saroyan's own youth. His family was not prosperous, and at times, he could certainly be said to have been quite poor. Growing up in poverty can often lead one to have very particular values and methods to their life that show themselves through their work. Saroyan often looks at impoverished families, particularly children, you could look at “The Men with the Heart in the Highlands” as reflecting Saroyan's own impoverished youth.

Even he was amazed at the poverty he saw in Europe in 1935. At that time, Saroyan would have been back for about a year from his trip to Europe, and he traveled all over. At that point, the world was at the height of the Great Depression. This would have led to great levels of impoverishment around the world, and certainly his visits to portions of what would be the Soviet Union, as well as mainland Europe and Ireland, would have led him to see some truly impoverished areas.

The story itself is less a story than it is a series of short vignettes, and it opens very much like the introduction.

I was a traveler once and I went to Europe.

Instantly, you see a contradiction between the the beggars, and the speaker. Beggars are rarely travelers, that is to say beggars and the impoverished rarely have the chance to travel except out of necessity. We have this concept of the traveling beggar who goes from town to town, again reflected in “The Man with the Heart in the Highlands, but most are in some way, tied to the land at which they are and don't get to move around. The nomadic lifestyle does exist among the poor, but perhaps not the levels that it does for the rest of the world. Certainly, being able to be an American who can travel to Europe would definitely qualify Saroyan as being separated from the impoverished. He mentioned this and notes-

“…such as I saw amateur beggars and professional beggars, a professional beggar is a beggar who begs for living, he begs for money with which to buy bread.”

otyam photo069He then says that

“Every man alive in the world is a beggar of one sort or another. Every last one of them great and small. The priest begs God for grace and the king begs for something for something. Sometimes he begs the people for loyalty. Sometimes he begs God to forgive him. No man in the world can have endured 10 years without having begged God to forgive him.”

Again, Saroyan is talking from a very specific point of view, a very western point of view, certainly a Western, Judeo Christian point of view. He talks about various different types of beggars, he encounters both happy and sad on his trip to Russia, and in fact, what he says

“one of the gayest little beggars I ever saw was a Russian boy of nine or 10, who met the trains at the station of a little village south of Kiev on the way to Kharkov.”

He says Russia, but of course he's speaking about the Ukraine.

He goes on to talk about how the boy sang and had a beautiful voice, and how others came to see him, but he was most enthralled and interested. He knows there was such sadness in the song, but it was a kind of sadness, which had not forgotten gaiety.

“He sang the song through once and then stood smiling at me. And I began to hurry through my pockets for Russian money.”

He also notes this was one of the things that pleased him very much about Russia, ignoring the current understanding of what constitutes Russia and the Ukraine.

Certainly at this point, the Ukraine would have been seen as Russian land though the traditions of both have always diverged pretty significantly.

He then describes interactions with another beggar in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh. He notes that that

“The beggar was singing just out in the every day he says right in the world. Build right on the stage of The World theater. That kind of music is magnificent in the world. I don't know how it would be in a theater, but I doubt very much it would be half as magnificent. That kind of music needs the world for a stage.”

 This of course harkens back to the Shakespearean quote, “All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players.” It speak to the idea of busking, and of course, to bring the art to the masses as being something that can lift the impoverished or the poor classes up and give them a way of making a living. This idea of egalitarian performance has always existed to a degree. In fact, famed British mathematician Charles Babbage wrote many screeds against street performers, largely because he found it as an imposing form of begging one that could not necessarily be ignored.

Saroyan closes with a look at a woman in London. He notes that

“…there were organ grinders, but flowers cellar, and a big cockney Lady of 50 or so, who had a bunch of roses and he passed along the street, very slowly and called to the people in the hotel, he talks about the loveliness and the sadness in her voice, and that her language was cockney.”

Cockney is, of course, a famed lower class idea within the British society, with a very specific voice pattern. You can definitely hear this in the musical My Fair Lady, as what Professor Henry Higgins is trying to bring out of bringing out of his charge, Eliza Doolittle. Throughout the story. It's marked with things such as dropping Hs. This idea of language, and particularly the forms of speech, marking your class is a classic note and something that Saroyan would have been highly, highly aware of. You could see this even in his own life. As the Armenians of Fresno added in language that at once reflected their background, certain Armenian words would definitely color their language, often, making them notable among the other classes that lived in Fresno. Most ethnic groups will have this sort of idea of working within them within their larger groups, famously Spanglish, the insertion of Spanish words within English typically by Hispanic populations. These sort of patois and jargons exist throughout all cultures where mixing of various groups is frequent. Often, it is the non-dominant group who is either ridiculed or at least remarked upon for having these traits to their speech.

pakay photo005Saroyan was a man who had encountered the arts across the board, around the world, yet these three voices made a deep impact upon him. This is another example of Saroyan’s writing, where he looks at the lower classes as would not normally be seen. He presents them not only in a positive, but in a moving light. This would be a major theme of his plays, and his books, going forward.

Thank you for listening to Forever Saroyan Presents -  Three Times Three. Our final episode will happen probably in two weeks, perhaps a little longer because of the exhibit William Saroyan at Arion Press Gallery in San Francisco. The final story: “Quarter, Half, Three-quarter, and Whole Notes.” So I hope you'll stay tuned.

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