Wednesday, May 25, 2011

From The Writer's Almanac

Today is the birthday of short-story writer, poet, and occasional essayist Raymond Carver (1938) (books by this author), born in Clatskanie, Oregon. He was the son of a sawmill worker, and he got married young — right out of high school — to his 16-year-old girlfriend, Maryann Burk. They had two kids in quick succession, and he went to work in a variety of blue-collar jobs to support his young family. He took a college creative writing course in California when he was 20, and that sparked his first interest in writing as a profession. He's best known for his short stories, but he was also an accomplished poet in the realist tradition of Robert Frost and W.S. Merwin.

He drank heavily throughout the '60s and '70s, like his father before him, even as he was emerging as America's most influential writer of short stories. He made his name writing about the hardships of the working poor, in spare prose made sparer by the influence of his editor, Gordon Lish. He's been called "minimalist," but he didn't care much for that label. "It suggests the idea of a narrow vision of life, low ambitions, and limited cultural horizons," he said. "And, frankly, I don't believe that's my case. Sure, my writing is lean and tends to avoid any excess. There's a saying of Hemingway's that I could take for my motto: 'Prose is architecture. And this isn't the Baroque age.'"

In 1977, he got sober, convinced that he would be dead at 40 otherwise. He left his wife the following summer to move in with the poet Tess Gallagher, who would be his companion, muse, and co-author for the rest of his life. His writing became more expansive, more hopeful, and he referred to this period as his "second life."

Carver, who once described himself as "a cigarette with a body attached to it," died of lung cancer at the age of 50. His epitaph, from his poem "Late Fragment," reads:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Click here to read one of his short stories –  A Small, Good Thing

1 comment:

mythopolis said...

a short-lived, but remarkable life...