By Aram Arkun
YEREVAN — Armenian-American writer Peter Sourian traveled to Armenia and Artsakh in early December to give a number of lectures and participate in the presentation of a collection of his short stories, together with one essay, published recently in Yerevan. The book tour was organized by the Writers Union of Armenia as part of its new “Literary Bridges” program, with the assistance of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia. The goal of this program is to establish connections between Armenians writing in non-Armenian languages in the diaspora, and an Armenian readership in the republic as part of a process of cultural exchange and enrichment.
Sourian, born in Boston in 1933 but raised in New York, is the author of three novels —Miri (1957), The Best and Worst of Times (1961) and The Gate (1965). He has published a book of essays and criticism called At the French Embassy in Sofia (1992), and a number of short stories. Deeply influenced by French literature and culture, Sourian writes poetry in French and has done translations from French into English. A number of his works have Armenian themes, especially The Gate.
Sourian’s first novel has been translated into German and Swedish, but this is the first time that a volume of his works has been published in Armenian. Titled Entrik otarneri het [Supper Among Strangers], it contains seven short stories, one essay and an introduction by David Stephen Calonne. One of the stories, “Freedom of Expression,” has never been published before in any language, while the other pieces first appeared in English in publications such as Playboy, Saturday Evening Post and Ararat (New York City). Introducing Sourian’s work in Armenian was the idea of veteran translator Aram Arsenyan, who was responsible for translating the entire collection.
Despite his venerable reputation as a leading member of the second generation of Armenian- American writers — and a writer who was termed by no less than William Saroyan as his worthy successor — the Armenian public up until now, with a limited number of exceptions, was unfamiliar with Sourian’s work. As Levon Ananyan, head of the Writers Union and the man instrumental in organizing Sourian’s visit, exclaimed on several occasions, Sourian was being “returned” to Armenia thanks to Aram Arsenyan’s translations and also through Sourian’s physical presence, brief though it might be.
In Armenia, Sourian had a full schedule. He usually was accompanied by Ananyan and Arsenyan of Armenia, Aram Arkun of New York (editor of the new book) and various well-known Armenian writers. Sourian and his new volume were first presented at a press conference at the Writers Union on December 6, at which many Armenian writers were present. Perch Zeytuntsyan recalled meeting Sourian many years ago in New York, though only later did he have the opportunity to read his works. Zeytuntsyan complimented Sourian’s delicate and unique style of writing. Arsenyan pointed out that Sourian was respected as a university professor, an American television and film critic and of course as an Armenian-American writer. Karpis Surenyan, Artem Harutyunyan, Yervand Petrosyan, Artur Andranikyan and Aram Arkun also spoke about Sourian.