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Carver, Raymond 1938–1988

Carver, Raymond 1938–1988

PERSONAL: Born May 25, 1938, in Clatskanie, OR; died of lung cancer August 2, 1988, in Port Angeles, WA; son of Clevie Raymond (a laborer) and Ella Beatrice (a homemaker; maiden name, Casey) Carver; married Maryann Burk (a teacher), June 7, 1957 (divorced, October, 1983); married Tess Gallagher (a poet), June 17, 1988; children: Christine LaRae, Vance Lindsay. Education: Humboldt State College (now California State University, Humboldt), A.B., 1963; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1966. Hobbies and other interests: Travel.

CAREER: Writer. Manual laborer, c. late 1950s–early 1960s; Science Research Associates, Inc., Palo Alto, CA, editor, 1967–70. University of California, Santa Cruz, lecturer in creative writing, 1971–72; University of California, Berkeley, lecturer in fiction writing, 1972–73; Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, professor of English, 1980–83. Visiting professor of English, Writers Workshop, University of Iowa, 1973–74; member of faculty writing program, Goddard College, 1977–78; visiting distinguished writer, University of Texas at El Paso, 1978–79.

MEMBER: International PEN (member of executive board), American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Authors Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts Discovery Award for poetry, 1970; Joseph Henry Jackson Award for fiction, 1971; Wallace Stegner Creative Writing fellowship, Stanford University, 1972–73; National Book Award nomination in fiction, 1977, for Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?; Guggenheim fellowship, 1977–78; National Endowment for the Arts Award in fiction, 1979; Carlos Fuentes Fiction Award, for short story "The Bath"; Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1983; O. Henry Award, 1983, for "A Small, Good Thing" and 1988, for "Errand"; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination in fiction, 1984, and Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction, 1985, both for Cathedral; Levinson Prize for poetry, 1985; Los Angeles Times book prize, 1986, for Where Water Comes Together with Other Water; Creative Arts Award citation, Brandeis University, 1988; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination in fiction, 1988, and Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction, 1989, both for Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories; honorary degree from University of Hartford, 1988.



Put Yourself in My Shoes, Capra Press, 1974.

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, McGraw (New York, NY), 1976, reprinted, Vintage (New York, NY), 1992.

Furious Seasons, Capra, 1977.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

The Pheasant, Metacom, 1982.

"A Small, Good Thing," Doubleday (New York, NY), 1983.

Cathedral: Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984, reprinted, Wadsworth (Boston, MA), 2003.

If It Please You, Lord John, 1984.

The Stories of Raymond Carver, Picador (London, England), 1985.

Elephant, and Other Stories, Harvill Press (London, England), 1988.

Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Short Cuts: Selected Stories, Vintage (New York, NY), 1993.


Near Klamath, Sacramento State College, 1968.

Winter Insomnia, Kayak, 1970.

At Night the Salmon Move, Capra, 1976.

Two Poems, Scarab Press, 1982.

For Tess, Ewert, 1984.

Where Water Comes Together with Other Water, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

This Water, Ewert, 1985.

Ultramarine, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

In a Marine Light: Selected Poems, Harvill (London, England), 1987.

Saints, Random House (New York, NY), 1987.

A New Path to the Waterfall: Poems, introduction by Tess Gallagher, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1989.

All of Us: The Collected Poems, Harvill (London, England), 1998.


Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories, 1966–1982, Capra, 1983.

(Author of foreword) John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.

(Editor and author of introduction) William Kittredge, We Are Not in This Together: Stories, Greywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1984.

Dostoevsky: The Screenplay, Capra, 1985.

(Editor with Shannon Ravenel) The Best American Short Stories 1986, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1986.

My Father's Life, Babcock and Koontz, 1986.

Those Days: Early Writings by Raymond Carver: Eleven Poems and a Story, edited by William L. Stull, Raven Editions, 1987.

(Editor with Tom Jenks) American Short-Story Masterpieces, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1987.

Conversations with Raymond Carver, edited by Marshall Bruce Gentry and William L. Stull, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

Carver Country, Scribner (New York, NY), 1990.

No Heroics, Please: Uncollected Writings, edited by William L. Stull, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.

Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose, edited by William L. Stull, Vintage (New York, NY), 2001.

Also author, with Michael Cimino, of script "Purple Lake"; author of short story "Errand," 1988. Contributor to anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, 1967, 1982, and 1983, Short Stories from the Literary Magazines, Best Little Magazine Fiction, 1970 and 1971, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1983, Pushcart Prize Anthology, 1976, 1981, 1982, and 1983, New Voices in American Poetry, and The Generation of 2000: Contemporary American Poets. Contributor of poems and stories to national periodicals, including Esquire, New Yorker, Atlantic, and Harper's, and to literary journals, including Antaeus, Georgia Review, Ohio Review, Paris Review, and Poetry. Editor, Quarry (magazine), 1971–72; editor, Ploughshares, Volume 9, number 4, 1983.

ADAPTATIONS: Several of Carver's short stories were adapted for film as Short Cuts, directed by Robert Altman.

SIDELIGHTS: Raymond Carver was one of a handful of contemporary American short-story writers credited with reviving what was thought of by the mid-twentieth century as a dying literary form. His stories mainly take place in his native Pacific Northwest region; they are peopled with the type of lower-middle-class characters the author was familiar with while he was growing up. In a New York Review of Books article, Thomas R. Edwards described Carver's fictional world as a place where "people worry about whether their old cars will start, where unemployment or personal bankruptcy are present dangers, where a good time consists of smoking pot with the neighbors, with a little cream soda and M & M's on the side…. Carver's characters are waitresses, mechanics, postmen, high school teachers, factory workers, door-to-door salesmen. [Their surroundings are] not for them a still unspoiled scenic wonderland, but a place where making a living is as hard, and the texture of life as drab, for those without money, as anywhere else."

Carver's own life paralleled that of one of his characters. Born in an Oregon logging town, the author was married and the father of two before he was twenty years old. Like his characters, Carver also worked at a series of low paying jobs: he "picked tulips, pumped gas, swept hospital corridors, swabbed toilets, [and] managed an apartment complex," according to Bruce Weber in a New York Times Magazine profile of the author. Carver's wife at the time, continued Weber, "worked for the phone company, waited tables, [and] sold a series of book digests door-to-door." Not coincidentally, "of all the writers at work today, Carver may have [had] the most distinct vision of the working class," as Ray Anello observed in Newsweek. Carver taught creative writing in California and produced two books of poetry before his first book of short stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, was published in 1976.

In introducing readers to the desperation of ordinary people, Carver created tales that are "brief … but by no means stark," noted Geoffrey Wolff in his New York Times Book Review piece on Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? The critic continued: "They imply complexities of action and motive and they are especially artful in their suggestion of repressed violence. No human blood is shed in any of these stories, yet almost all of them hold a promise of mayhem of some final, awful breaking from confines, and breaking through to liberty." The theme of breaking from confines is central to one of the stories, "Neighbors," in which Bill and Arlene Miller agree to feed their neighbors' cat while the neighbors, the Stones, are on vacation. With access to the Stones' home, the Millers find themselves increasingly taken with their friends' clothes, furniture, and other belongings. Bill and Arlene, in fact, begin to assume the identities of the Stones; "each finds this strangely stimulating, and their sex life prospers, though neither can find anything much to say about it at all," reported Edwards. The end of the story finds the Millers clinging to the Stones' door as their neighbors return, knowing that their rich fantasy life will soon end.

The author's "first book of stories explored a common plight rather than a common subject," noted New York Times Book Review critic Michael Wood. "His characters were lost or diminished in their own different ways. The 17 stories in [Carver's third collection, What We Talk about When We Talk about Love], make up a more concentrated volume, less a collection than a set of variations on the themes of marriage, infidelity and the disquieting tricks of human affection." "The first few pieces seem thin and perfunctory," Adam Mars-Jones wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, "and there is a recurring pattern … of endings which lurch suddenly sideways, moving off in a direction that seems almost random." Anatole Broyard found such endings frustrating. In his New York Times review of What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, Broyard criticized what he calls "the most flagrant and common imposition in current fiction, to end a story with a sententious ambiguity that leaves the reader holding the bag."

"Perhaps there is a reason for this," said Mars-Jones. "Endings and titles are bound to be a problem for a writer like Carver, since readers and reviewers so habitually use them as keys to interpret everything else in a story. So he must make his endings enigmatic and even mildly surrealist, and his titles for the most part oblique. Sometimes he over-compensates." Newsweek reviewer Peter S. Prescott felt that all seventeen stories in Carver's third collection "are excellent, and each gives the impression that it could not have been written more forcefully, or in fewer words."

Prescott also noted that the author is concerned "with the collapse of human relationships. Some of his stories take place at the moment things fall apart; others, after the damage has been done, while the shock waves still reverberate. Alcohol and violence are rarely far removed from what happens, but sometimes, in another charac-teristic maneuver, Carver will nudge the drama that triggers a crisis aside to show that his story has really been about something else all along." "Carver's is not a particularly lyrical prose," said Weber in his New York Times Magazine review. He added, "A typical sentence is blunt and uncomplicated, eschewing the ornaments of descriptive adverbs and parenthetical phrases. His rhythms are often repetitive or brusque, as if to suggest the strain of people learning to express newly felt things, fresh emotions. Time passes in agonizingly linear fashion, the chronology of a given scene marked by one fraught and simple gesture after another. Dialogue is usually clipped, and it is studded with commonplace observations of the concrete objects on the table or on the wall rather than the elusive, important issues in the air."

Of Carver's 1984 short-fiction collection, Cathedral, "it would be hard to imagine a more dispirited assortment of figures," declared David Lehman in Newsweek. In each story a "note of transcendent indifference, beyond resignation or fatigue, is sounded," added Lehman, cautioning, "fun to read they're not." But, the critic stressed, "it's impossible to ignore Carver's immense talent." In Cathedral Carver rewrites the ending of one of his most acclaimed stories from What We Talk about When We Talk about Love. The original story, "The Bath," is about a mother who orders a special cake for her eight-year-old son's birthday—but the boy is hit by a car on that day and is rushed to the hospital, where he lingers in a coma. The baker, aware only that the parents have not picked up their expensive cake, badgers them with endless calls demanding his money. As the story ends the boy's fate is still unknown, and the desperate parents hear the phone ring again. In Cathedral the author retells this story—now titled "A Small, Good Thing"—up to the final phone ring. At this point ambiguity vanishes; Carver reveals that the boy has died, and the call is from the irate baker. But this time the parents confront the baker with the circumstances, and the apologetic man invites them over to his bakery. There he tells the parents his own sad story of loneliness and despair and feeds them fresh coffee and warm rolls, because "eating is a small, good thing in a time like this."

"In revising 'The Bath' into 'A Small, Good Thing,' Carver has indeed gone into [what he describes as] 'the heart of what the story is about,' and in the process has written an entirely new story—has created, if you will, a completely new world," declared Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World. "The first version is beautifully crafted and admirably concise, but lacking in genuine compassion; the mysterious caller is not so much a human being as a mere voice, malign and characterless. But in the second version that voice becomes a person, one whose own losses are, in different ways, as crippling and heartbreaking as the one suffered by the grieving parents." As Broyard wrote in a New York Times review of Cathedral, "It is typical of Mr. Carver's stories that comfort against adversity is found in incongruous places, that people find improbable solace. The improbable and the homely are [the author's] territory. He works in the bargain basement of the soul." Yardley maintained that "'The Bath' is a good short story," while "'A Small, Good Thing' comes breathtakingly close to perfection."

Carver's 1988 short-fiction collection Where I'm Calling From, released shortly before his death, combines new and previously published stories. The entire volume is colored by Carver's standard themes of alienation, failed relationships, and death, but critics generally considered the newer contributions softer and more rambling than the author's earlier, more intense pieces.

According to New York Times Book Review critic Irving Howe, Carver's stories evoke "strong American literary traditions. Formally, they summon remembrances of Hemingway and perhaps Stephen Crane, masters of tightly packed fiction. In subject matter they draw upon the American voice of loneliness and stoicism, the native soul locked in this continent's space. [The author's] characters, like those of many earlier American writers, lack a vocabulary that can release their feelings, so they must express themselves mainly through obscure gesture and berserk display." Paul Gray, writing about Cathedral in Time, maintained that "Carver's art masquerades as accident, scraps of information that might have been overheard at the supermarket check-out or local beer joint. His most memorable people live on the edge: of poverty, alcoholic self-destruction, loneliness. Something in their lives denies them a sense of community. They feel this lack intensely, yet are too wary of intimacy to touch other people, even with language."

Such appraisals of his writing left Carver a little wary. He once told Weber: "Until I started reading these reviews of my work, praising me, I never felt the people I was writing about were so bad…. The waitress, the bus driver, the mechanic, the hotel keeper. God, the country is filled with these people. They're good people. People doing the best they could."

Carver also wrote extensively as a poet. A collection of his poetry, including some works written shortly before his death, was published in A New Path to the Water-fall. Although he had already released a volume of his collected verse, the diagnosis of lung cancer inspired him to write another volume. These poems are characterized by a reliance on sentence-sounds and a structure steeped in storytelling. Edna Longley commented in the London Review of Books that "all his writing tends toward dramatic monologue, present-tense soliloquy that wears the past like a hairshirt." He explores tortured marriages and strained familial relationships, all of which lead him bravely into discussing his own terminal illness. Longley praised Carver for his ability to forge solid beginnings and endings: "A Carver poem instantly establishes its presence." Fred Chappell, writing in the Kenyon Review, took a much different view of the book. He admitted that he had reservations in reviewing it: "My personal impression has been that Carver desiccated the short story and that his effort to trivialize the form has been as irrelevant as it was unsuccessful … the poems here are pretty bad. In fact, it is difficult to think of these productions as poems; they stand in relation to poetry rather as iron ore does to Giacometti sculpture."

In 1998, all Carver's poems were collected and published as All of Us: The Collected Poems, complete with bibliographic notes and indexes. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, called the collection "direct and lucid." Noting that Carver became especially dedicated to poetry as his death from lung cancer loomed on the horizon, an Economist contributor added: "This is confessional poetry at its scrupulous best: neither self-dramatizing nor self-pitying, but penetrating, focused, and unflinching."

In 1992 a collection of Carver's early works was published. No Heroics, Please: Uncollected Writings contains poems, essays, book reviews, and other pieces Carver had chosen not to include in any of his other collected works. Several of the short stories included had only been published before in student literary magazines. Of particular interest to Carver scholars is the fact that in these stories Carver uses literary devices such as flashbacks and experimentation with verb tenses—techniques he shunned in his later work. Alan Davis commented in the Hudson Review that "the artfulness of Carver, the way he consciously chisels a world out of workaday detail, becomes quickly apparent after perusing his earliest stories."

Several of Carver's previously published short stories received attention when acclaimed film director Robert Altman adapted them as the film Short Cuts. Although Altman took some liberties in adapting these stories for the screen, they remained essentially true to Carver's ideas. The filmed stories are also collected into the book Short Cuts. In "So Much Water So Close to Home" a wife learns that the source of her marital disharmony is the fact that her husband found a drowned woman while on a fishing trip and took days before reporting his find to the police. "Jerry and Molly and Sam" chronicles the life of a disgruntled husband and father who thinks ditching the family pet will relieve some of his stress.

Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, discovered three unpublished short stories by her husband in 1999, and two more were later discovered among the author's papers at Ohio State University. These stories were published in 2001 in Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose. Gallagher was reluctant to publish the stories because her husband had not yet finished them enough to consider submitting them for publication. "Ray would sometimes take a story through 30 rewrites," she was quoted as saying by Paul Gray in Time. "These stories had been put aside well before that." Nevertheless, the stories reflect Carver's approach to short fiction and, as noted by Daniel Garrett in World Literature Today, are still "distinguished." Garrett added, "These are mature stories, the work of a man in command of his talent and in touch with his emotions." As noted by Brad Hooper in Booklist, "To a one, they demonstrate the author's characteristic bare-bones style as he placed characters of modest means and resources into the kind of ordinary crises that define ordinary lives." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented, "For fans of Carver … the five newly discovered stories collected here are like a stash of diamonds stumbled upon in a long-abandoned mine." The collection also includes book reviews of Sherwood Anderson letters, two biographical pieces on Ernest Hemingway, a fragment from a novel, and other assorted essays and reviews. Some reviewers found these additional materials to be merely "padding," according to Troy Patterson in Entertainment Weekly. Others looked on the writings more favorably, including the Publishers Weekly contributor, who noted that Carver's fans "won't be disappointed by the remainder of the book."

"I never figured I'd make a living writing short stories," Carver told Penelope Moffet in a Publishers Weekly interview only a few months before his death in 1988. "How far in this world are you going to get writing short stories? I never had stars in my eyes. I never had the big-score mentality." Astonished by his literary prominence, Carver told Moffet that fame "never ceases to amaze me. And that's not false modesty, either. I'm pleased and happy with the way things have turned out. But I was surprised."



Carver, Raymond, Cathedral, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 22, 1982, Volume 26, 1983, Volume 53, 1989, Volume 55, 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 130: American Short-Story Writers since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, 1985, 1988, 1989.

Gentry, Marshall Bruce, and Stull, William L., editors, Conversations with Raymond Carver, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

Halpert, Sam, Raymond Carver: An Oral Biography, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1995.

Lohafer, Susan, Coming to Terms with the Short Story, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1983.

Meyer, Adam, Raymond Carver, Twayne (New York, NY), 1994.

Nesset, Kirk, The Stories of Raymond Carver: A Critical Study, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 1995.

Short Story Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 8, 1991.

Weaver, Gordon, editor, The American Short Story, 1945–1980, Twayne (New York, NY), 1983.


Akros Review, spring, 1984.

Antioch Review, spring, 1984.

Atlantic, June, 1981.

Booklist, June 1, 1994, p. 1775; September 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of All of Us: The Collected Poems; November 1, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Call if You Need Me: The Uncollected and Other Prose, p. 518.

Books, March, 1994, p. 13.

Boston Globe, July 17, 1983.

Canto, Volume 2, number 2, 1978.

Chariton Review, spring, 1984.

Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1986.

Chicago Tribune Book World, October 2, 1983.

Commonweal, December 1, 1989.

Contemporary Literature, winter, 1982.

Detroit News, October 2, 1983.

Economist, January 4, 1992; August 15, 1998, review of All of Us: The Collected Poems, p. 72.

Entertainment Weekly, January 19, 2001, Troy Patterson, review of Call if You Need Me, p. 78.

Eureka Times-Standard (Eureka, CA), June 24, 1977.

Georgia Review, fall, 1982; winter, 1993, pp. 820-821.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 24, 1984; July 2, 1988.

Hollins Critic, December, 1987.

Hudson Review, summer, 1976; autumn, 1981; spring, 1984; winter, 1993, pp. 653-658.

Iowa Review, summer, 1979.

Kenyon Review, summer, 1990, pp. 168-179.

Library Journal, September 15, 1998, Graham Christian, review of All of Us: The Collected Poems, p. 83; December, 2000, Marc Kloszewski, review of Call if You Need Me, p. 194.

London Review of Books, February 2-l5, 1984; March 22, 1990, pp. 22-23; March 10, 1994, p. 19.

Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1988.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 24, 1981; October 2, 1983; July 28, 1985; October 26, 1986; December 28, 1986; January 31, 1988; June 26, 1988; July 19, 1992, p. 1.

Nation, July, 1981.

New Republic, April 25, 1981; November 14, 1983.

New Statesman & Society, August 19, 1988; February 16, 1990; December 6, 1991.

Newsweek, April 27, 1981; September 5, 1983.

New York, April 20, 1981.

New York Review of Books, November 24, 1983; November 18, 1993, p. 66.

New York Times, April 15, 1981; September 5, 1983; May 11, 1988; May 31, 1988.

New York Times Book Review, March 7, 1976; April 26, 1981; February 9, 1986; June 7, 1987; May 15, 1988; July 19, 1992; January 21, 2001, Claire Ded-erer, review of Call if You Need Me, p. 8.

New York Times Magazine, June 24, 1984.

Paris Review, summer, 1983.

People, November 23, 1987.

Philological Quarterly, winter, 1985.

Poetry, July, 1999, David Orr, review of All of Us, p. 231.

Publishers Weekly, May 27, 1988; April 20, 1990, p. 70; August 16, 1993, p. 100; October 30, 2000, review of Call if You Need Me, p. 43.

Saturday Review, April, 1981; October, 1983.

Studies in Short Fiction, winter, 1984; summer, 1985; summer, 1986.

Time, April 6, 1981; September 19, 1983; January 15, 2001, Paul Gray, review of Call if You Need Me, p. 131.

Times (London, England), January 21, 1982; April 17, 1985; May 16, 1985.

Times Literary Supplement, January 22, 1982; February 17, 1984; May 24, 1985; September 15, 1989; February 28, 1992, p. 16; January 24, 1997.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 9, 1986; May 8, 1988; September 4, 1994, p. 12.

Village Voice, September 18, 1978.

Washington Post, August 4, 1988.

Washington Post Book World, May 3, 1981; September 4, 1983; May 15, 1988; July 9, 1989; January 27, 1991, p. 15.

World Literature Today, spring, 1999, Lee Oser, review of All of Us, p. 333; summer-autumn, 2001, Daniel Garrett, review of Call if You Need Me, p. 143.



Chicago Tribune, August 3, 1988; August 7, 1988.

Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1988.

New York Times, August 3, 1988.

Times (London, England), August 4, 1988.

Washington Post, August 4, 1988.

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