Westmont Magazine Writing from Life
Aris Janigian ’82 always wanted to be a writer but never thought he could earn a living with his pen. He majored in both English and psychology at Westmont, earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Claremont Graduate School and found a job teaching humanities at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles. But he never gave up writing, and he published his first novel this year.
Set in Fresno in the 1950s, “Bloodvine” (Heyday Books 2003) tells the tale of a troubled relationship between Armenian half-brothers and fellow farmers. The book is based on the life of Aris’s father and explores the experience of his Armenian relatives in the aftermath of genocide.
The novel, which was hailed by critics, is scheduled for a second printing. In a March 23, 2003, review for the Los Angeles Times, critic Aram Saroyan called the work a “large achievement” and the author “a strong, welcome new voice.” While the story centers on the familial conflict, it also features lyrical descriptions of the land. “The writer lets us see nature with a lucid force that more than once bears comparison with Hemingway or Boris Pasternak,” Saroyan says. The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle also published positive reviews.
“Bloodvine” is the third book Aris has written; the first two helped him develop his craft. He is now reworking one of these volumes for publication in 2004-05.
Meanwhile Aris continues to teach creative writing, philosophy and humanities. “I thought a school of art and design would be hospitable to my writing,” he says. “Working with people who think about art in the visual sense is a nice complement to my involvement in the writing arts.”
Co-writing “Something from Nothing” (Rotovision, 2002) helped Aris explore the relationship between writers and designers. The book features a conversation on the philosophy of design between Aris and April Greiman, a top graphic designer.
In addition to teaching and writing, Aris works in the family wine-grape business in Fresno each fall. At first he went north to help out when his father died, but then he realized it was a good way to support his wife and two daughters. “I get to feel the land, get my hands in the dirt and share in the experience of my father and forefathers,” Aris says. “It helps me do earth-up writing.”
His college years have also borne fruit in his professional life. He values the education he received at Westmont, especially during the England semester led by David ’73 and Crystal Nelson ’74 Downing. “Professor Downing was the most instrumental person in my development as a writer,” Aris says. “He understood what made writing good and how to push students. The Downings were incredibly good as a team, and there were bright and intellectually adventurous students in the program. It was a great experience.
“I went to Westmont because I wanted to explore my faith in an intelligent way with some intellectual rigor,” Aris says.“Westmont helped me move beyond the clichés of Christianity. There were people really probing their faith and not assuming the answers were easy. That was what I expected, that was what I got. The ensuing spiritual journey has definitely enriched my life.”