Editor: John Struloeff
|(1938 - 1988)|
Raymond Clevie Carver, Jr. (May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988) was an American short story writer and poet. Carver is considered a major writer of the late 20th century and also a major force in the revitalization of the short story in the 1980s.
Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, a mill town on the Columbia River, and grew up in Yakima, Washington. His father, a sawmill worker, was an alcoholic. Carver's mother worked on and off as a waitress and a retail clerk. His one brother, James Franklin Carver, was born in 1939.
Carver was educated at local schools in Yakima, Washington. In his spare time he read mostly novels by Mickey Spillane or publications such as Sports Afield and Outdoor Life and hunted and fished with friends and family. After graduating from Davis High School in 1956, Carver worked with his father at a sawmill in California. In June of 1957, aged 19, he married his girlfriend, 16-year-old Maryann Burk. She had just graduated from a private Episcopal school for girls. His daughter, Christine La Rae, was born in December of 1957. When their second child, a boy named Vance Lindsay, was born the next year, Carver was 20. Carver supported his family by working as a janitor, sawmill laborer, delivery man, and library assistant. During their marriage, Maryann worked as a waitress, salesperson, administrative assistant, and teacher.
Carver became interested in writing in California, where he had moved with his family because his wife's mother had a home in Paradise. Carver attended a creative writing course taught by the novelist John Gardner, who had a major influence on Carver's life and career. Carver continued his studies first at Chico State University and then at Humboldt State College in Arcata, California, where he studied with Richard Cortez Day and received his B.A. in 1963. He attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa for one year. Maryann graduated from San Jose State College in 1970 and taught English at Los Altos High School until 1977.
In the mid-60s Carver and his family lived in Sacramento, where he worked as a night custodian at Mercy Hospital. He sat in on classes at what was then Sacramento State College and learned from poet Dennis Schmitz. Carver's first book of poems, Near Klamath, was published in 1968 by the English Club of Sacramento State College.
With his appearance in the respected "Foley collection," the impending publication of Near Klamath, and the death of his father, 1967 was a landmark year. That was also the year that he moved his family to Palo Alto, California, so that he could take a job as a textbook editor for Science Research Associates. He worked there until he was fired in 1970. In the 1970s and 1980s as his writing career began to take off, Carver taught for several years at universities throughout the United States. From 1980 to 1983 he was a professor of English at Syracuse University.
During the years of working in different jobs, rearing children, and trying to write, Carver started to drink heavily and stated that alcohol became such a problem in his life that he more or less gave up and took to full-time drinking. In the fall semester of 1973, Carver was a teacher in the Iowa Writers' Workshop with John Cheever, but Carver stated that they did less teaching than drinking and almost no writing. The next year, after leaving Iowa City, Cheever went to a treatment center to attempt to overcome his alcoholism, but Carver continued drinking for three years. After being hospitalized three time because of his drinking (between June of 1976 and February or March of 1977), Carver began his 'second life' and stopped drinking on June 2, 1977, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In 1982 Carver divorced his first wife, Maryann. From 1979 Carver had lived with the poet Tess Gallagher whom he had met at a writers' conference in Dallas, Texas in 1978. They married in 1988 in Reno, Nevada. Six weeks later, on August 2, 1988, Carver died in Port Angeles, Washington, from lung cancer at the age of 50. In the same year, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is buried at Ocean View Cemetery in Port Angeles, Washington. As his will directed, Tess Gallagher assumed the management of his literary estate.
Carver's career was dedicated to short stories and poetry. He described himself as "inclined toward brevity and intensity" and "hooked on writing short stories" (in the foreword of Where I'm Calling From, a collection published in 1988--and a recipient of an honorable mention in the 2006 New York Times article citing the best works of fiction of the previous 25 years.) Another stated reason for his brevity was "that the story [or poem] can be written and read in one sitting". This was not simply a preference but, particularly at the beginning of his career, a practical consideration as he juggled writing with work. His subject matter was often focused on blue-collar experience, and are clearly reflective of his own life. The same could probably be said of the recurring theme of alcoholism and recovery.
Carver's writing style and themes are often identified with Ernest Hemingway, Anton Chekhov, and Franz Kafka. Carver also referred to Isaac Babel, Frank O'Connor, and V. S. Pritchett as influences. Chekhov, however, seems the greatest influence, motivating him to write Errand, one of his final stories, about the Russian writer's final hours.
Minimalism is generally seen as one of the hallmarks of Carver's work. His editor at Esquire magazine, Gordon Lish, was instrumental in shaping Carver's prose in this direction - where his earlier tutor John Gardner had advised Carver to use fifteen words instead of twenty-five, Lish instructed Carver to use five in place of fifteen. During this time, Carver also submitted poetry to James Dickey, then poetry editor of Esquire. His style has also been described as Dirty realism, referring to a group of writers in the 1970s and 1980s that included Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff - two writers Carver was closely acquainted with - Ann Beattie, and Jayne Anne Phillips. These were writers who focused on the sadnesses and losses of the everyday lives of ordinary people--often lower-middle class or isolated and marginalized people who represent Henry David Thoreau's idea of living lives of "quiet desperation."
His first published story appeared in 1960, titled "The Furious Seasons". More florid than much of his later work, the story strongly bore the influence of William Faulkner. "Furious Seasons" was later used as a title for a collection of stories, though the story itself was not included, and can only be found in recent collections No Heroics, Please and Call If You Need Me.
His first collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, was first published in 1976, and the title story was selected for the America's Best Short Stories collection. The collection itself was shortlisted for the National Book Award, though it sold little more than 5,000 copies that year. He was further decorated with the 1983 O.Henry Award for the story A Small, Good Thing, about the parents of a young boy involved in a car accident. The piece was included in his 1983 collection, Cathedral. However, it was the title story of this collection, about a man meeting with a blind, old acquaintance of his wife, which Carver pointed to as a turning point in his career, as a "different kind" of story to his earlier work, more literary and perhaps more optimistic, though bittersweet, in tone.
His final collection of seven stories, Elephant, was composed shortly before his death. The nature of these stories, especially Errand, have led to some speculation that Carver may have been preparing to write his first novel (other attempts to write longer work had been abandoned, most notably a rather uneven and unpromising fragment, "The Augustine Notebooks," contained in No Heroics, Please), though this is not corroborated elsewhere.
In air heavy
sensual smell of crocuses,
a sea change blue
I watch lightning leap from Asia as
my love stirs and breathes and
part of this world and yet
And did you get what
A few minutes ago, I stepped onto the deck
As he writes, without looking at the sea,
So early it's still almost dark out.
When I see the boy and his friend
They wear caps and sweaters,
I think if they could, they would take
They come on, slowly.
Such beauty that for a minute
Happiness. It comes on
This morning was something. A little snow
Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Third Year
October. Here in this dank, unfamiliar kitchen
In jeans and denim shirt, he leans
But the eyes give him away, and the hands
|[Our biography was extracted and edited from wikipedia.org]|
Last Updated: Wed, January 24, 2007
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