Top Armenian Writers Abroad

Top Armenian Writers Abroad

When talking about Armenian writers on a global scale, Armenians usually mention William Saroyan and Sergey Dovlatov. But that’s past. And who are the most successful authors with Armenian descent today?

Text : Artavazd Yeghiazaryan

 


   

Kristen Roupenian
Country: USA

Roupenian is probably the hottest writer of Armenian descent right now, though her bibliography includes only one collection of short stories, “You know you want this,” published in 2019. But to Roupenian, who was born in 1982 and grew up in Boston, world fame came in 2017, when her debut story, “Cat Person,” was published in The New Yorker. A first-person story about toxic relations between a girl and her boyfriend, it became a sensation. Particularly it happened due to the social networks, where it went viral. Twitter users shared it virally – parallelly discussing their own dating experiences. 

Not so long after Roupenian secured a seven-figure deal with Scout Press publishing for her book, which was renamed “You know you want this.” Then, even before the book was published, HBO bought the development rights for the collection to create an anthology drama series, and one of the leaders of the independent movie market, A24, acquired the rights for Roupenian’s horror screenplay “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies.”
Sunday Times describes Roupenian’s style as “a new literary genre” where “Supernatural horror meets bedroom politics.” In two years, the book had over 55 editions both in English and translated. 

 

 

Narine Abgaryan
Country: Russia

Unlike many in this list, Narine Abgaryan was born in Armenia, in 1971, and only in her 20’s moved to Moscow. Her speaking language was Russian, so it didn’t take her long to start writing in Russian. Her first stories were published in her blog in LiveJournal, where they gained huge popularity. In 2010, many of the stories were included in a collection of short stories, “Manyunya,” which is mainly an autobiographical book that tells the stories of the author’s childhood in the small city of Berd in Armenia. With this book, she became a laureate of the Russian National Literary Prize “Manuscript of the Year” in the nomination “Language” and entered the long list of nominees for the 2011 Big Book Award.

The debut book brought Abgaryan and her characters huge popularity. She later published other books about Manyunya, then another book about her experience as an immigrant in Moscow in the 90’s, “Ponayekhavshaya,” as well as other novels – “Three Apples Fell from the Sky” and “Zulali” – which are mainly about the people of Berd.

Right now, Abgaryan is one of the most influential Russian writers. Her books are constantly being translated to other languages, including Armenian, while the latest one – “Three Apples Fell from the Sky,” has been published in English this year. The secret of her success is her unique style. Sparkling with sumptuous imagery and warm humor, Abgaryan’s works are usually vibrant tales of resilience and bravery, and the miracle of everyday friendship.

 

 

Antonia Arslan
Country: Italy

Born in 1938 to the father of Armenian descent (her grandfather, Yerwant Arslanian was born in 1865 in Kharpert in Western Armenia), Antonia Arslan  became a professor of modern and contemporary Italian literature at the University of Padua and published copious studies, inter alia, on Italian popular fiction and Italian women writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her primary concern as a literary critic is the Italian literary canon. 

She turned to fiction only in the 2000's, in her 60’s, and from the beginning started to explore her Armenian heritage. Her first novel, “La masseria delle allodole,” (“The Lark Farm”) was published in 2004. Drawing on the history of her own recent ancestors, it tells of the attempts of the members of an Armenian family caught up in the Armenian Genocide to escape to Italy and join a relation who had been living there for forty years. The novel got several literary awards in Italy, was translated into numerous languages (including English and Armenian) and inspired the Taviani brothers’ 2007 film of the same name. 

Her second novel, “La Strada di Smirne” (“On the way to Smyrna”) was published in 2009 by Rizzoli, and again explores themes of the fate of Armenians. Her latest novel “Il libro di Mush” (“The Book of Mush”) is again based on Armenian history, exploring the story of an Armenian manuscript, the biggest one survived to our days. During the Armenian Genocide it was miraculously saved by two Armenian women who divided it into two parts and brought to Eastern Armenia. 

Arslan is much praised in Armenia. She has received the Narekatsi Medal (2010) and the Movses Khorenatsi Medal (2012) for her cultural contributions.

 

 

Chris Bohjalian
Country: USA

New York Times bestselling author of 21 books, Bohjalian graduated from Amherst College Summa Cum Laude. He later moved to Vermont, where he began writing weekly columns for the local newspaper and magazine about living in the small town. The column ran in the Burlington Free Press from 1992 through 2015 and won a Best Lifestyle Column from the Vermont Press Association. Bohjalian has also written for such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, The New York Times, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.

Bohjalian's first novel, “A Killing in the Real World”, was released in 1988. His third novel, “Past the Bleachers”, was released in 1992 and was adapted to a Hallmark Channel television movie in 1995. Groundbreaking for his career was 1997’s “Midwives”. The novel focuses on the rural Vermont midwife Sibyl Danforth, who becomes embroiled in a legal battle after one of her patients dies following an emergency Caesarean section. The novel was critically acclaimed and was selected by Oprah Winfrey as the October 1998 selection of her Oprah’s Book Club. It became a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestseller. In 2001, the novel was adapted into a Lifetime Movie Network television film starring Sissy Spacek in the lead role. 

As many writers of Armenian descent, Bohjalian too, explored the topic in his works. “The Sandcastle Girls” (2012) is about the Armenian Genocide and its century-long denial by Turkey. The novel includes two stories folded into one: the story of Elizabeth Endicott and Armen Petrosian, lovers who meet in Syria during the genocide, and the story of Laura Petrosian, their granddaughter, who, after a century, tries to understand why they have been silent about their youth. Soon she realizes that her suburban existence is quite different from the violent setting in which her grandparents have met and fallen in love. USA Today proclaimed that Bohjalian makes “a near-century-old event come to life in a way that will make readers gasp with shock that such a terrible event – Turkey’s determination to kill all the Armenians in their country – is such a small part of our knowledge of world history.” Oprah Winfrey chose it as a Book of the Week: “This rendering of one of history’s greatest (and least known) tragedies is a nuanced, sophisticated portrayal of what it means not only to endure but also to insist on hope.”

Bohjalian’s 2018 novel, “The Flight Attendant,” debuted as a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and National Indiebound Bestseller. It is currently being filmed for an 8-hour HBO Max limited series, starring Kaley Cuoco (who is also an Executive Producer), Rosie Perez, Michiel Huisman (“Game of Thrones” and “The Haunting of Hill House”), Zosia Mamet (“Girls”), and T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”). It is expected to start streaming in late 2020.

 

 

Peter Balakian
Country: USA

Poet, writer and academic, Balakian was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2016. 

Peter Balakian is the author of seven books of poems Although he is also known for his academic work and prose, it was poetry that brought him the Pulitzer Prize. “Ozone Journal” is a 55-section poem set mostly in Manhattan in the 1980s when a young man is going through a crisis in his personal life and encountering his cousin who’s dying of AIDS. This set of events is reflected on by the persona’s older self in 2009 when he’s in Syria excavating the remains of his ancestors who were murdered during the Armenian genocide. 

Armenian Genocide is often in the center of Balakian’s works. In 2004, he published “Burning Tigris,” where, using rarely seen archival documents and remarkable first-person accounts, Balakian presented the chilling history of how the Turkish government implemented the first modern genocide behind the cover of World War I and how America reacted to the events. Few years later, his memoire “Black Dog of Fate” was widely praised. The book charts Balakian’s growth and personal awakening to the facts of his family’s history and the horrifying aftermath of the Turkish government's continued campaign to cover up one of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity. 

In 2009, Balakian translated from Armenian the memoirs of his ancestor, priest Grigoris Balakian, who was arrested along with some 250 other intellectuals and leaders of Constantinople’s Armenian community on April 24 of 1915 and witnessed massacres. 

Translations and editions of Balakian’s work appear in Armenian, Greek, German, Dutch, Bulgarian, Turkish, Russian.

 

 

Mariam Petrosyan
Country: Russia/Armenia

Great-granddaughter of painter Martiros Saryan, Mariam Petrosyan is not a typical participant of this list. Firstly, she mainly lives and works in Armenia. But on the other hand, like Narine Abgaryan, she is Russian-speaker and her literature was published in Russian and is considered as part of the modern Russian literature. And besides, Petrosyan is not very active, at least not published often. Her main heritage is a debut novel “Gray House.”

This over 700-page novel tells a story of a boarding school for disabled children, situated in a mysterious Gray House. As told in the book’s Goodreads page, “Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House – a hulking old structure, that its residents know it’s alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws – all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.” A book that was being written by Petrosyan for years just for herself, became an instant sensation and bestseller. It was nominated for the Russian Booker Prize in 2010 and received several awards and nominations, among them the 2009 Russian Prize for the best book in Russian by an author living abroad. It was translated to 9 languages (including English, but not Armenian), and in 2013, excerpts from the book were narrated by Stephen Fry in the film Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin.
The only other book by the author to date is a short fairy tale, “The Dog Who Could Fly,” published in Russian in 2014, with illustrations by painter and animator Naira Muradyan.