Carlson, Ron 1947–
Carlson, Ron 1947–
(Ronald F. Carlson)
PERSONAL: Born September 15, 1947, in Logan, UT; son of Edwin and Verna Carlson; married Georgia Elaine Craig (a teacher and editor), June 14, 1969; children: Nicholas, Colin. Education: Attended University of Houston, 1965–66; University of Utah, B.A., 1970, M.A., 1972. Hobbies and other interests: Jogging, reading, walking, and fishing.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, CT, English teacher, 1971–81; writer/artist in schools in UT, ID, and AK, 1981–86; Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, writer-in-residence, 1986–87, assistant professor, 1987–89, associate professor, 1989–94, professor of English, 1994–, director of creative writing, 1989–96, 2003–, Foundation Professor of English, 2003, Regents' Professor of English, 2004–; University of California—Irvine, professor. Numerous visiting professorships, including University of Hawaii at Manoa, distinguished visiting writer, 1997; Beloit College, Mackey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing, 2000.
AWARDS, HONORS: Connecticut Commission on the Arts grant, 1978; Bread Loaf fellow, 1983; National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 1985; Pushcart Prize, Pushcart Press, 1998, 2000; O. Henry Award, Texas Institute of Letters, 2001, for "At the Jim Bridger"; Cohen Prize, Ploughshares; National Society of Arts and Letters Literature Award.
Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1977.
Truants: A Novel, Norton (New York, NY), 1981.
The News of the World: Stories, Norton (New York, NY), 1987.
Plan B for the Middle Class: Stories, Norton (New York, NY), 1992.
The Hotel Eden: Stories, Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
At the Jim Bridger: Stories, Picador USA (New York, NY), 2002.
A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories, Norton (New York, NY), 2003.
The Speed of Light (young adult novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Five Skies, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of short stories to numerous anthologies, including The Wedding Cake in the Middle of the Road, edited by Susan Stamberg and George Garret, Norton (New York, NY), 1992; A Literary Christmas, edited by Lilly Golden, Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA), 1992; The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, 5th edition, edited by R.V. Cassill, Norton (New York, NY), 1995; and The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction, 2nd edition, edited by R.V. Cassill and Joyce Carol Oates, Norton (New York, NY), 1998. Short stories featured in Best American Short Stories 1987, edited by Ann Beattie and Shannon Ravenel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1987; The Best American Short Stories, 2000, edited by E.L. Doctorow and Katrina Kineson, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000; American Short Stories since 1945, edited by John Parks, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001; The Big Book of Esquire Fiction, edited by Adrienne Miller, Context Books (New York, NY), 2002; Bottom of the Ninth: Great Contemporary Baseball Stories, edited by John McNally, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2003; A Bestial Noise, edited by Rob Spill-man, Tin House Publications (New York, NY), 2003; Speculations: An Anthology for Reading, Writing, and Research, edited by Landrum and others, Kendall/Hunt Publishing (Dubuque, IA), 2003; and What If?, 2nd edition, Pearson Longman Publishers (New York, NY), 2003. Contributor of fiction to numerous periodicals, including Esquire, Tin House, Oxford American, Harper's, Quarterly West, Gentleman's Quarterly, Playboy, and New Yorker.
Bigfoot Stole My Wife (one-act, based on the short story of the same title), produced at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays, 1986, recorded and broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at the Sydney Olympics, 2000.
The Tablecloth of Turin (one-act), produced in Haddon Heights, NJ, 1987.
Two Monologues: Madame Zelena Finally Comes Clean [and] The Time I Died, produced in New York, NY, 1988, produced in part as Madame Zelena Finally Comes Clean at the West Bank Café in New York, NY, 1989.
This Guy Wrote the Book of Love, produced at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre, 1990.
Contributor to the anthology of short plays Cabbies, Cowboys, and the Tree of the Weeping Virgin, Salt Lake Acting Co., 2002.
Ron Carlson Writes a Story, Graywolf (St. Paul, MN), 2007.
Contributor to The Slate Diaries, edited by Jodi Kanotr, Public Affair Press, 2000. Contributor of essays, articles, book reviews, and satire to numerous periodicals, including the New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Slate (online magazine), Esquire, Washington Post, and Writer's Journal.
ADAPTATIONS: The short story "On the U.S.S. Fortitude," first published in July of 1990 in New Yorker, was broadcast as a radio play by Symphony Space in New York, NY, in 1993 and 1996, and by National Public Radio in 1993 and 1996. "The H Street Sledding Record," a short story first published in 1992 and featured in both magazines and anthologies, was produced as a radio play by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1994, and broadcast by Symphony Space in 1996. "The Chromium Hook," first published as a short story in Harper's in 1995, was first staged at Emerson College in 1997, was filmed by Allgood Productions in 1999, and was adapted as a one-act musical by Norman Noll and produced in New York, NY, in 2000. "Towel Season," first published in Esquire in 1998, was recorded by actor William Hurt for the Symphony Space Selected Shorts Audio Tape Series. The short story "Keith" has been adapted as a feature film to be released by No Hands Productions in 2007.
SIDELIGHTS: Although Ron Carlson's fiction has ranged from a coming-of-age novel to stories dealing with families, all of his work is marked by witty observations that range from reflective to humorous. For example, Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the story of a young graduate student's self-discovery, "is written in a serio-comic vein, flecked with apt observations, often very funny, though more successful on the comic than it is on the serio side," observed Richard R. Linge-man in the New York Times. In Truants: A Novel, Carlson develops the theme of how "most families, and their surrogates, wretchedly handle the business of nurturing and succoring," commented New York Times Book Review contributor Barry Yourgrau. Yet Carlson "presents all of this in an affecting manner, with a very decent heart and a tart tongue," added the critic. "He practices a kind of wit that is at once tender, canny and vivid, capable of burnishing a passing moment with a quick touch."
Like Truants, Carlson's story collection The News of the World: Stories also deals with family relations; "the subject is domestic life, whose secrets [Carlson] tracks like a hunter, flushing them out with paranoid intensity," Nancy Forbes described it in the New York Times Book Review. Washington Post Book World contributor Alida Becker similarly remarked that the collection is "an exuberant, wise and wonderfully inventive evocation of the kinds of love and longing that never really go out of style, no matter how much they're threatened by sentimentality on the one hand and cynicism on the other." Despite this opportunity for over-emotional treatment of "family" subjects, Carlson is "a writer who has acquired the technique to depict such values and situations with absolute integrity," asserted Alan Cheuse in Chicago Tribune Books. Richard Eder of the Los Angeles Times Book Review also saw a tendency toward "an outpouring instead of an evaporation of spirit, in Carlson's work, even though the outcomes of some stories are discouraging." The critic elaborated: "Carlson wants to find a design in things, even though this goes against the spirit if not the evidence of the times. Yet in his best stories, he does find it. And he finds it by a kind of magic, by a credo quia absurdum in which the will to believe is suddenly snatched up and transfigured." When this occurs, concluded Eder, "we experience a vision touched by wildness sometimes, by audacity sometimes, and sometimes by the sheer pleasure of inventiveness." It is this "blend of tragicomedy, sheer optimism, sharp perception, and almost manic energy that makes Carlson's work so distinctive—and so appealing," remarked Becker. Carlson is "a meat-and-potatoes writer," added Becker, "a man who'll entertain you even as he's tricking you into swallowing that extra spoonful of understanding. And he'll never ever let you go away hungry."
Continuing to write about average Americans in not so average situations, Carlson produced Plan B for the Middle Class: Stories, a collection of short stories tempering the conflicts of life with the hope that everything will turn out all right. His characters are predominantly middle class, but lack a sense of comfort or purpose. According to Mark Bautz's review of Plan B for the Middle Class in the Washington Times, Carlson is "a master of the quirky, bittersweet domestic story." Maxine Chernoff of the New York Times Book Review called him "a brilliant comedic writer; in his best stories, he captures the ability of people to adapt to the worst situations and still see the results as triumphant."
The Hotel Eden: Stories, Carlson's third collection of short stories, features both the comedic and the tragic, side by side. The reader watches a young American couple in London fall under the spell of an older American who finally seduces the young woman, then is quickly hurled into a nonsensical account of medieval villagers trying to protect themselves from marauders by developing a way to pour boiling oil on the heads of their enemies. "You can laugh out loud at these stories," wrote Judith Freeman for the Los Angeles Times, "and then a few minutes later find yourself deeply moved by a character's pathos." She also commented: "Taken together, they represent the idiosyncratic vision of an original writer who does only what good writers can do: make us see and feel what his characters see and feel and draw us into their world as if we had been born there." Margot Livesey, in the New York Times Book Review, made a similar assessment: "This ability to include a reader, long a hallmark of Carlson's work, has reached new heights in The Hotel Eden." "Every character has been caught on the cusp of epiphany," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "and the imperfect shine to the sentences reveals just how precarious those moments of true revelation can be."
In 2003 Carlson published his first young adult novel, The Speed of Light. The story revolves around twelve-year-old Larry, who is the first-person narrator of this coming-of-age story. Along with his friends, Witt and Rafferty, Larry recounts his summer playing little league and other games but also reveals the darker side of his life, which includes his abusive father who beats both Larry and his sister. One way that Larry deals with the problem is take a scientific perspective to life, which leads to numerous child-like experiments.
Noting that The Speed of Light "has many potential audiences and defies easy categorization," Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy contributor James Blasin-game added: "Young adults, either those just past the protagonists' ages, or teens old enough to have turned nostalgic about their childhoods, will enjoy it. It will also appeal to adults, conjuring up memories of the last summer between childhood and young adulthood." Todd Morning, writing in the School Library Journal, commented that the "narration … is beautifully written, yet manages to seem like the genuine voice of a boy." Booklist contributor John Green liked the book for its "understated, beautiful writing and the nostalgia."
A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories, is a selection of thirty-five of Carlson's stories, which previously appeared in the collections The News of the World, Plan B for the Middle Class, and The Hotel Eden. Writing in the Library Journal, Patrick Sullivan called A Kind of Flying "among the finest collections of short fiction you will likely encounter." Becky Dickie, writing in Booklist, commented: "These are stunningly artistic stories." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author's "best tales will endure."
Carlson once told CA: "My writing, tenor and approach, changed after the arrival of my two sons. Many of my characters grew up, which was a relief, and I found myself suddenly doing a lot more work. Also, I took a job at Arizona State University, which was good in the way regular employment is good and bad exactly the same way. Right now I have several projects lined up and am quite optimistic about the future. My boys are [young]. Optimism seems the natural choice."
Carlson more recently told CA: "I'm driven and drawn by the same forces as when I began writing in my youth. I have a powerful curiosity about my life, which at times has been kindred to affection and at other times more a dark wonder. It has all mattered. I wrote my first novel as a kind of love letter to an era, the friends and times of my dawning, and I'm writing my current project to see if I can lever out new questions about the relationship between the mind and the world. That's only close. My stories continue to evolve and now each comes at me as a kind of dear challenge, and I accept, only knowing that when I dive in, I won't be able to touch the bottom. I've said elsewhere that the largest force influencing my work is the kind of life I have lived and the people who have come along with me; the evidence from my fifty plus years would ask for optimism, and I know too well that this notion is not a simple thing. And I surely know it is not the general condition. I've written about personal relationships, marriage and family, and I've written about people in hot water who have a sense that they may not reside there permanently. I do continue to sense that not every leap from the frying pan lands in the fire.
"Key to my development as a writer was the early guidance and encouragement I received as an undergraduate at the University of Utah from an amazing teacher and writer, Dr. David Kranes.
"I start stories when an impulse, a feeling is strong enough. I never know the whole story when I start, but I have a definite urge toward the place or the time or the event I want to evoke, whether it is simply the bright leaves on a wet street in Salt Lake City or a small thickly carpeted lounge in London. I pay hard attention to the story as it grows; I listen to it, get it rolling, push it, and then follow. Mine is not an uncommon custom: I find what my story is by writing it. That is all about paying attention, focus, work.
"Because I'm a long time teacher—thirty years—and because I consider teaching not a rote exercise, but a kind of investigation, my own writing has been done in steady increments. My best years are those where I whittle at something every day, either early or late, but every day, term time and holiday. Sometimes, my calendar has clobbered me in the past, usually because I allowed it to, but now I work every day for a short period. A writer's true desire will prevail."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
AWP Chronicle, December, 1997, interview with Carlson.
Bloomsbury Review, September-October, 1997, Leslie A. Wooten, "Shadows & Light: An Interview with Ron Carlson," pp. 15-16.
Booklist, July, 1992, Donna Seaman, review of Plan B for the Middle Class: Stories, p. 1916; August, 2003, John Green, review of The Speed of Light, p. 1976; September 15, 2003, Becky Dickie, review of A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories, p. 208.
Entertainment Weekly, July 11, 1997, Margot Mifflin, review of The Hotel Eden: Stories, p. 63.
Glimmer Train, winter, 2001, interview with Carlson.
Hudson Review, summer, 1987, Alice Bloom, review of The News of the World: Stories, p. 322.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, April, 2004, James Blasingame, review of The Speed of Light, p. 611.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of The Speed of Light, p. 801; October 1, 2003, review of A Kind of Flying, p. 1201.
Kliatt, May, 2005, Heidi Hauser Green, review of The Speed of Light, p. 21.
Library Journal, December, 1986, Mary K. Prokop, review of The News of the World, p. 134; July, 1992, Kimberly G. Allen, review of Plan B for the Middle Class, p. 130; May 15, 1997, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of The Hotel Eden, p. 105; September 15, 2003, Patrick Sullivan, review of A Kind of Flying, p. 94.
Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1997, Judith Freeman, review of The Hotel Eden, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 1, 1987, Richard Eder, review of Truants: A Novel.
New York Times, July 14, 1977, Richard R. Lingeman, review of Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald; June 10, 1987, Walter Goodman, theater review of Bigfoot Stole My Wife, p. C26.
New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1981, Barry Yourgrau, review of Truants, p. 12; January 4, 1987, Nancy Forbes, review of The News of the World, p. 18; July 26, 1992, Maxine Chernoff, review of Plan B for the Middle Class, p. 8, and Alison MacFarlane, interview, p. 9; July 6, 1997, Margot Livesey, review of The Hotel Eden, p. 22.
Phoenix Home and Garden, September, 1995, "Taking Sideways Looks at Nice Guys and Chasing Dogs," p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, November 21, 1980, Barbara A. Bannon, review of Truants, p. 48; October 24, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, "The News of the End of the World," p. 58; May 25, 1992, review of Plan B for the Middle Class, p. 36; April 7, 1997, review of The Hotel Eden, p. 72; July 7, 2003, review of The Speed of Light, p. 73; October 13, 2003, review of A Kind of Flying, p. 58; October 20, 2003, review of A Kind of Flying, p. 37.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 10, 1997, review of The Hotel Eden.
School Library Journal, July, 2003, Todd Morning, review of The Speed of Light, p. 124.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 15, 1987, Alan Cheuse, review of Truants.
Washington Post Book World, April 5, 1987, Alida Becker, review of Truants.
Washington Times, August 16, 1992, Mark Bautz, review of Plan B for the Middle Class.
Weber Studies, fall, 1991, interview; spring, 1998, interview.
Arizona State University Department of English Web site, http://www.asu.edu/clas/english/ (April 27, 2006), faculty profile of author.
TeenReads.com, http://www.teenreads.com/ (April 27, 2006), "Ron Carlson," interview with author.