LOS ANGELES — Don’t let her name fool you. Strawberry Saroyan is no hippie chick. Nor is she a literary snob, though her grandfather, William Saroyan was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, and her father, Aram Saroyan, is a poet. Rather, the 32-year-old journalist’s first memoir, “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” published this week by Random House, is a smart, poignant account of a girl’s struggle to become both a professional and a woman — “Sex and the City” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” comparisons be damned.
Media types will appreciate reading about Saroyan’s coming of age at glittery Condé Nast, snagging her first job as an assistant and eventual editor at Condé Nast Traveler. The book is filled with references to the former habitués of 350 Madison Avenue. She was smitten with James Truman and Tina Brown and Harry Evans, and her wardrobe color of choice was black.
“I was never a fashionista, really,” she says over dinner at Chateau Marmont.
“At Barnard, I had a ‘Felicity’ moment were I cut off all my hair and wore it bleached out with bobby pins. I even had a T-shirt with a kitty cat on it,” she remembers, aghast. An Edie Sedgwick phase soon followed, then the shabby-shoes phase of a U.N. intern. Condé Nast, she says, “really whipped me into shape.”
But her tale shifts gears when, burned out at 25, Saroyan fled for the West coast and into the company of slacker-meets-overachiever transplants who frequent dive bars and Le Colonial on Thursday nights. What actually brought Saroyan to L.A. was an editor in chief gig at a short-lived but buzzed-about Web community for teenage girls called Kibu in Silicon Valley. But she chose not to write about that brief chapter in her life. Instead, she chronicled her hunt for an identity and a fulfilling relationship and drew Joan Didion-like comparisons from her love-hate affair with New York.
A California native (she grew up in the hippie seaside town Bolinas, with occasional jaunts to Beverly Hills to visit her her grandmother, who married Walter Matthau after divorcing William Saroyan twice), Saroyan eventually found her place among the Angelenos.
“As you grow older, you revert to type, and not in a bad way,” she says. “You just realize more and more how your background is something you’re heading toward and how it’s shaped you to some degree.”
Does this mean she’s about to hippie out? “I have some ideals of hippie-dom, but it’s not a flower-power thing,” she says. “I’m actually the Alex P. Keaton of my family, and I’m getting fairly close to becoming a Republican.”
Contemplating her next project, Saroyan imagines herself writing for a TV series, another true sign that she might have left her New York media-girl self behind for good.
“On TV, you can be a journalist and impact the culture by telling stories, not necessarily by covering things,” she says. “If you wanted to know what it was like to be a man at the end of the 20th century, ‘The Sopranos’ is as good as — or, frankly, better than — looking at GQ.”