Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

"It's strange. You never start out life with the intention of becoming
a bankrupt or an alcoholic or a cheat and a thief. Or a liar."

-- Raymond Carver

Despite the vagaries of his life, Raymond Carver became one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th century.

Although he struggled with alcoholism, financial hardship and marital trouble, he was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and an honorary doctorate for his literary contributions. His greatest strength was his mastery of conveying the frustration and anguish of his working class characters.

Carver's life

Born and raised in the backwoods towns of Washington logging country, Carver had much in common with his characters. He was married by 18 and had two children by the age of 20. In spite of these responsibilities, he struggled to start a writing career while attending Chico State University in California.

There he took a creative writing course taught by then-unpublished novelist John Gardner, which profoundly affected his development as a writer. He later earned his bachelor's degree at Humboldt State College in Eureka and went on to the University of Iowa.

By the '70s, Carver was regularly publishing stories, but his marriage deteriorated due to his growing problem with alcohol. He was hospitalized four times in two years for acute alcoholism. When he finally got sober in 1977, he quit writing for a year.

When he returned to the typewriter, he stories took on a different flavor. "Cathedral" and "A Small, Good Thing," arguably his best fiction, have been anthologized and translated into several languages.

He met poet Tess Gallagher in 1977 and they began living together in 1979. For some good pictures of Carver and Gallagher together, click here.

He published several collections of his short stories and poems, received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his collection Cathedral and edited Best American Short Stories 1986. In 1988, he married Gallagher, only a month and a half before he died of lung cancer -- cutting short a brilliant writing career.

Carver's work

Some of Carver's unpublished stories are coming to print in magazines like Esquire and others. In an interview in 1978, he identified himself primarily a short story writer, but he also produced numerous poems.

The Scratch

I woke up with a spot of blood
over my eye. A scratch
halfway across my forehead.
But I'm sleeping alone these days.
Why on earth would a man raise his hand
against himself, even in sleep?
It's this and similar questions
I'm trying to answer this morning.
As I study my face in the window.

NorthernNotes from Northern Illinois University

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