Raymond Carver

It was in June 2000, when the Guardian published “What would you like to see?”, that I first got the Carver bug. Almost immediately, I bought everything by him that I could lay my hands on — books of short stories like “What we talk about when we talk about love”, “Cathedral” and “Elephant” — and I loved them all. Quite often a page of Carver’s original handwritten or typed manuscript is included at the beginning of the collections, and you can see how he would write and then go back and correct — making sure that every comma, every full stop was in the right place.

Although he’s celebrated now, Carver felt real hardship during his life which was cut tragically short at the age of 50. This biography appears on AmericanPoems.com:

“The American short story writer and poet Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, on May 25, 1938, and lived in Port Angeles, Washington during his last ten, sober years until his death from cancer on August 2, 1988. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1979 and was twice awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1983 Carver received the prestigious Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award which gave him $35,000 per year tax free and required that he give up any employment other than writing, and in 1985 Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize. In 1988 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Hartford. He received a Brandeis Citation for fiction in 1988. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

At least that’s the basic biography. Of course there’s no room in it for the nature of the hardship he and his family went through during most of those fifty years between birth and death. There’s no mention of his marriage at 19, the birth of his two children, Christine and Vance, by the time he was 21. No mention of his sometimes ferocious fights with his first wife, Maryann. No mention, either, of his near death, the hospitalizations — four times in 1976 and 1977 — for acute alcoholism.”

To find out more about the man in his own words, check out some of the many interviews that Carver gave later on in his life as recognition of his brilliance grew. William Stull has translated two interviews with Carver from European newspapers on his page Prose as Architecture.

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