Paul Bowles letters to William Saroyan

Biographical and Historical Notes

Paul Bowles

Paul Frederic Bowles was born in New York City on December 30, 1910. Since the 1940s, Bowles has written numerous works of fiction, essays, translations, travel writing, poems, and other works. Among Bowles’s best-known fictional works are the novels The Sheltering Sky (1949), Let It Come Down (1952), The Spider’s House (1955); and his initial short story collection, The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (1950).

Paul Bowles has also had a prominent career as a composer. He studied with both Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson, and during the 1930s and 1940s became one of the pre-eminent composers of American theater music.

In 1938, Paul Bowles married the former Jane Auer, who, under her married name, became an accomplished author. Paul and Jane Bowles spent much of their married life traveling throughout the world and in the late 1940s made Tangier, Morocco, their permanent home. Jane Bowles died in 1973, but Bowles has continued to reside in Tangier.


Locher, Frances C. (ed.) Contemporary Authors. Volume 103. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1982.

Miller, Jeffrey. Paul Bowles: A Descriptive Bibliography. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1986.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. An Invisible Spectator: A Biography of Paul Bowles. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.

William Saroyan

Novelist, playwright, and composer William Saroyan was born on August 31, 1908 in Fresno, California. During his career Saroyan wrote over four hundred short stories, including his noted “My Name Is Aram” (1940) and “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” which received an O. Henry Award in 1934.

He also composed the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Time of Your Life (1939) and what has been called the first anti-war novel, The Adventures of Wesley Jackson (1946). Saroyan’s famous novel The Human Comedy (1943) was produced as a movie, starring Mickey Rooney and featuring Rosemary Clooney’s hit song “Come On-A My House,” which Saroyan composed.

His autobiographical works are titled The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills (1952) and Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang In Forever (1976).

William Saroyan died on May 18, 1981, in Fresno, California.

Scope and Content Note

Paul Bowles Letters to William Saroyan is a small collection of eleven letters from Bowles to Saroyan and one carbon letter from Saroyan to Bowles. Dated between 1937 and 1942, most of Bowles’ letters are typed, with the exception of one autograph postcard and a single autograph letter.

This exchange of letters was prompted by Paul Bowles’ interest in collaborating with William Saroyan on an opera. The letters follow Bowles’ thoughts on such a joint venture, from choosing a subject, through describing his work on the score for Opera, Opera, and finally to the ultimate demise of the project in 1942, when Bowles writes that Opera, Opera is “dead.”

In his letters Bowles also mentions his health problems and travels, praises Saroyan’s Subway Circus, inquires about the production of Jim Dandy, and invites Saroyan to join him and Jane Bowles in Mexico.