Mark Arax’s new book, West Of The West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State (April 2009, PublicAffairs), which will hit the bookstores in April, begins with his grandfather’s journey out of the Armenian genocide and ends with his father’s murder in Fresno, finally solved after 30 years.
In between are ten stories–including “The Legend of Zankou” and “Confessions of an Armenian Moonshiner,” that dig deeply and eloquently into California, and America, in a new century.
Critics are comparing the stories in West Of The West to the great social portraits written by William Saroyan and Joan Didion. Publishers Weekly gave Arax’s new collection its highest rating:
“These swift, penetrating essays from former Los Angeles Times writer Arax take measure of contemporary California with a sure and supple hand. For Arax, a third-generation Californian of Armenian heritage, the state’s outr? reputation and self-representation are a complex dance of myth and memory that includes his own family lore and personal history.
“It is partly this personal connection, running subtly but consistently throughout, that pushes the collection past mere reportage to a high literary enterprise that beautifully integrates the private and idiosyncratic with the sweep of great historical forces.”
Arax is considered one of the nation’s finest journalists. For twenty years, his stories at the Los Angles Times exposed human rights abuses and official cover-up in California prisons and changed state laws that govern air quality and the treatment of farm workers in the fields.
His versatility as a journalist is reflected in the fact that he was nominated eight times for the Pulitzer Prizes–four nominations for hard-hitting investigative stories and four nominations for feature writing. The Nation magazine hailed his prison stories in the 1990s as “one of the great journalistic achievemen’s of the decade.”
Arax’s two previous books have garnered high praise from critics for their literary and investigative qualities. His first book, In My Father’s Name, is a stirring memoir that weaves together the history of his Armenian family and hometown of Fresno with his decades-long search to find the men who murdered his father in 1972.
His second book, the bestselling The King of California tells the epic story of the Boswell farming family and the building of a secret American empire in the heart of California. Named one of the top ten books of the year by the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, The King of California won a 2004 California Book Award and the 2005 William Saroyan International Writing Prize.
A top graduate of Fresno State and Columbia University, Mark left the L.A. Times in 2007 after the paper’s managing editor decided to censor his story on the denial of the Armenian Genocide. The editor said Arax could not write the story because he is an Armenian. After a public fight, in which tens of thousands of Armenia’s nationwide protested to the paper in letters and phone calls, Arax was forced to leave the Times. The managing editor who censored Arax’s story was then fired.
He is the senior policy director for the California Senate Majority leaders and is teaching literary nonfiction part-time at Claremont McKenna.