Raymond Clevie Carver, Jr. (May 25, 1938 â August 2, 1988) was an American short story writer and poet. Carver was a major writer of the late 20th century and a major force in the revitalization of the American short story in literature 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 skilled sawmill worker from Arkansas, was a fisherman and a heavy drinker. Carver’s mother worked on and off as a waitress and a retail clerk. His one brother, James Franklin Carver, was born in 1943.
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 Yakima High School in 1956, Carver worked with his father at a sawmill in California. In June 1957, aged 19, he married 16-year-old Maryann Burk, who had just graduated from a private Episcopal school for girls. Their daughter, Christine La Rae, was born in December 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 high school English teacher.
Carver became interested in writing in California, where he had moved with his family because his mother-in-law had a home in Paradise. Carver attended a creative writing course taught by the novelist John Gardner, who became a mentor and had a major influence on Carver’s life and career. His first published story, "The Furious Seasons", appeared in 1961. More florid than 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 published by Capra Press, and can now be found in the recent collections, No Heroics, Please and Call If You Need Me.
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. During this period he was first published and served as editor for Toyon, the university literary magazine, in which he published several of his own pieces under pseudonyms. He attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop during the 1963-1964 academic year; homesick for California and unable to fully acclimate to the program’s upper middle class milieu, he completed twelve credits out of the thirty required for a M.A. degree. Although Carver was awarded a fellowship for a second year of study from program director Paul Engle after Maryann Carver personally interceded and compared her husband’s plight to Tennessee Williams’ deleterious experience in the program three decades earlier, Carver nonetheless elected to leave the program at the end of the semester. Maryannâ who postponed completing her education to support her husband’s educational and literary endeavors âeventually graduated from San Jose State College in 1970 and taught English at Los Altos High School until 1977.
In the mid-1960s Carver and his family lived in Sacramento, California, where he briefly worked at a bookstore before taking a position as a night custodian at Mercy Hospital. He did all of the janitorial work in the first hour and then wrote at the hospital through the rest of the night. He sat in on classes at what was then Sacramento State College, including workshops with poet Dennis Schmitz. Carver and Schmitz soon became friends, and Carver’s first book of poems, Near Klamath, was later written and published under Schmitz’s guidance.
With the appearance of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" in Martha Foley’s annual Best American Short Stories anthology and the impending publication of Near Klamath by the English Club of Sacramento State College, 1967 was a landmark year for Carver. He briefly enrolled in the library science graduate program at the University of Iowa that summer but returned to California following the death of his father. Shortly thereafter, the Carvers relocated to Palo Alto, California, so he could take his first white-collar job at Science Research Associates (a subsidiary of IBM), where he worked intermittently as a textbook editor and public relations director through 1970. Following a 1968 sojourn to Israel, the Carvers relocated to San Jose, California; as Maryann finished her undergraduate degree, he would remain enrolled in the library science program at San Jose State through the end of 1969, failing once again to take a degree. Nevertheless, he established vital literary connections with Gordon Lish and the poet/publisher George Hitchcock during this period.
After the publication of "Neighbors" in the June 1971 issue of Esquire at the instigation of Lish (now ensconced as the magazine’s fiction editor), Carver (by now a resident of Sunnyvale, California) began to teach as a visiting artist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He received a Stegner Fellowship to study in the non-degree graduate creative writing program at Stanford University during the 1972-1973 term, where he cultivated friendships with contemporaneous fellows Chuck Kinder, Max Crawford, and William Kittredge. The fellowship enabled the Carvers to buy a house in Cupertino, California; in addition to his position at Santa Cruz, he took on another teaching job at the University of California, Berkeley that year.
His first short story collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, was published in 1976. The collection itself was shortlisted for the National Book Award, though it sold fewer than 5,000 copies that year.
During his years of working different jobs, rearing children, and trying to write, Carver started to drink heavily. By his own admission, eventually he more or less gave up writing and took to full-time drinking. In the fall semester of 1973, Carver was a visiting lecturer 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 times (between June 1976 and February or March 1977), Carver began his ‘second life’ and stopped drinking on June 2, 1977, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Carverâwho continued to smoke marijuana and experimented with cocaine at the behest of Jay McInerney during a 1980 visit to New York Cityâbelieved he would have died of alcoholism at the age of 40 if he hadn’t found a way to stop drinking.
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 was clearly reflective of his own life.
Minimalism is generally seen as one of the hallmarks of Carver’s work. His editor at Esquire, 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. Objecting to the "surgical amputation and transplantation" of Lish’s heavy editing, Carver eventually broke with him. During this time, Carver also submitted poetry to James Dickey, then poetry editor of Esquire.
Carver’s style has also been described as dirty realism, which connected him with a group of writers in the 1970s and 1980s that included Richard Ford and Tobias Wolff (two writers with whom Carver was closely acquainted), as well as others such as Ann Beattie, Frederick Barthelme, and Jayne Anne Phillips. With the exception of Beattie, who wrote about upper-middle-class people, these were writers who focused on sadness and loss in the everyday lives of ordinary peopleâoften lower-middle class or isolated and marginalized people.
Raymond Carver – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – Cathedral (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – Beginners (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – From Where I’m Calling From (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – From Furious Seasons And Other Stories (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – Other Fiction (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – Selected Essays (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – Stories From Fires (read by Colleen Delany)
Raymond Carver – Chronology, Notes (read by Colleen Delany)