People Writers

Raymond Carver

raymond carver 1

Raymond Carver was an American poet and story writer.  He was born in Clatskanie, Oregon on May 25, 1938.  His parents were Clevie and Ella Carter.  Papa C was a sawmill worker and fisherman from Arkansas.  The matriarch was a waitress and retail clerk.  James was his sole sibling and five years younger.  The boys grew up in Yakima, Washington and were educated in the local school system.  Raymond spent his free time outdoors or reading novels.

He worked at a sawmill in California with his father after graduating high school in 1956.  Carver married Maryann Burk a year later.  He was nineteen.  Their daughter Christine was born that December.  Vance was their second and arrived in 1958.  The happy couple worked odd jobs to pay the bills.  Everyone moved to Paradise, California to be closer to Maryann’s family. 

Raymond enrolled into Chico State College and attended a creative writing course taught by the novelist John Gardner. His teacher had significant influence over his writing career.  Time passed and Carver published his first story called The Furious Seasons (1961).  The name would be used in the title of a future anthology.  The tight writing was parallel to the prose of William Faulkner.  He transferred to Humboldt State College in Arcata, California in 1960 and studied under Richard Cortez Day.

raymond carver
Raymond Carver – Photo Credit: PinkMoose

Graduate Studies

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies in 1963.  He worked as the editor for the college’s magazine Toyon and published several of his pieces under the pen name John Vale.  Raymond Carver was accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop on a fellowship for the 1963-64 academic year.  The young author had a difficult time adjusting to the workload.  Homesickness set in.  He decided to leave the University of Iowa at the end of the semester.  His M.F.A. degree remained unfinished.

The Carvers moved to Sacramento, California.  Raymond worked at a bookstore before taking a job as a night custodian at the local hospital.  He completed his required workload during the first hour of his shift.  The rest of his time was used to write deep into the night.  The days were spent auditing workshops at Sacramento State College.  Raymond befriended Dennis Schmitz, a poet.  The two became friends.  A collection of poems titled Near Klamath (1968) was published under the guidance of Schmitz.

In 1967 he re-enrolled in the library science graduate program at the University of Iowa.  His time in Iowa was brief.  Raymond returned to California after the death of his father.  The family moved to Palo Alto, California.  The writer worked as a public relations director for a subsidiary of IBM over the next three years.  Everyone moved to San Jose.  Carver continued his graduate studies at San Jose State.  He made several literary connections, but failed to complete his degree.

Iowa Writers' Workshop
Iowa Writers’ Workshop – Photo Credit: Workshop Workshopper

Late Career

Raymond continued to write and publish his work.  His story Neighbors debuted in the June 1971 issue of Esquire.  He landed a teaching position at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  A year later he was admitted into the graduate creative writing program at Stanford University.  His connections grew.  His family moved to Cupertino.  Carver took another teaching role at the University of California, Berkely.  His demanding schedule was a catalyst for his alcohol abuse.

Drinking slowly took hold of the writer.  Carver was a visiting lecturer during the fall semester of the 1973 Iowa Writers’ Workshop with John Cheever.  The two did nothing but drink.  Seldom words slipped off of their bare notebooks.  The logistical challenge of the dual teaching positions worsened with alcohol-related sicknesses.  He resigned and checked into a treatment center.  He continued to drink for three more years and was hospitalized several times. 

He stopped drinking on June 2, 1977 with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and a premonition of an early grave.  The ordeal resulted in divorce in 1982.  He remarried in the summer of 1988.  Six weeks later Raymond Carver passed away from Lung Cancer in Port Angeles, Washington on August, 2.  He was fifty years old.  Carver was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters later that year.  Numerous posthumous publications have been released to this day.  His career focused on poetry and short stories  His self-described style was intense brevity that concentrated on the blue-collar experience.  Critics considered minimalism as his true hallmark and labeled his style as dirty realism.  His work continues to influence writers today.

carver grave
Carver’s final resting place – Photo Credit: Richard Peterson

Raymond Carver Bibliography

Near Klamath 1968
Winter Insomnia 1970
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? 1976
At Night The Salmon Move 1976
Furious Seasons and other stories 1977
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love 1981
Cathedral 1983
Fires 1983
Where Water Comes Together With Other Water 1985
Ultramarine 1986
Elephant 1988

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.”

– Raymond Carver
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Raymond Carver – Photo Credit: Unknown author

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