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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver’s characters have been called diminished and lost. Carver’s study in character represents a cold look at the complicated inner lives of the working poor in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s: at any time, anyone might lose everything; not only material positions are lost but also trust, love, and truth. Carver may occasionally be naturalistic, but he is never nostalgic or romantic about life near the edge.

Carver lived much of his life in the same desperate straits as his characters. His father was a laborer with grand dreams and a deadly attraction to alcohol. Carver himself was married and raising two children before his twentieth birthday. He worked a variety of jobs that would never be presented as a career path on a résumé—picking tulips, pumping gas, sweeping up, delivering packages. He recalled, “Once I even considered, for a few minutes anyway—the job application form there in front of me—becoming a bill collector!” He and his wife declared bankruptcy several times. He inherited his father’s drinking problem.

In 1958 with two small children, he and his wife moved to Chico, California. They borrowed $125 from the druggist who employed Carver as a delivery man. With that money, Carver enrolled in Chico State and took his first writing class from John Gardner, at that time a young, unknown, and unpublished novelist. Encouraged by Gardner and later by the editor Gordon Lish, Carver began to take himself seriously as a writer. He began to publish regularly in little magazines, but not until 1968 did his first book, a collection of poems, appear, in a limited edition. Eight years later his first collection of stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? was published. Readers did not realize that Carver had stopped writing a couple of years before the book’s publication.

In June 1977 Carver’s life changed drastically. He stopped drinking, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he met the poet and short-story writer Tess Gallagher, who was to become his companion and eventually his second wife.

To the consternation of many editors, Carver was a rewriter of his own work. At least one of his stories has appeared with as many as three different titles and a slight rewriting at each publication. In an essay called “On Rewriting” he writes, “I like to mess with my stories. I’d rather tinker with a story after writing it, and then tinker some more, changing this, changing that, than have to write the story in the first place.” Even his successful stories were not exempted from his rewriting. “The Bath,” a widely praised story from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and winner of the Carlos Fuentes Fiction Award, reappeared in a much longer form in Cathedral as “A Small, Good Thing.” Writing in the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley said, “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.” Although many do not agree with Yardley, it was obvious that Carver found a different kind of strength in Cathedral.

Until his death from lung cancer in 1988 at the age of fifty, Carver continued to write poems and stories. His last book was a collection of poems called A New Path to the Waterfall.

In the Heath Anthology
A Small, Good Thing (1984)
Cathedral (1984)

Other Works
Will You Please be Quiet, Please? (1976)
Furious Seasons (1977)
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981)
Fires: Essays, Poems, and Stories, 1966-1982 (1983)
Dostoevsky: The Screenplay (1985)
Where Water Comes Together With Other Water (1985)
Ultramarine (1986)
Saints (1987)
Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories (1988)
A New Path To The Waterfall (1989)
No Heroics, Please: Uncollected Writings (1992)

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Featured Author: Raymond Carver
A compilation of all Carver-related New York Times pieces.

Raymond Carver
A biography, selected bibliography, and links.

The Minimalist Styles of Raymond Carver and Suzanne Vega
A scholarly essay by Wendy Chapman.

Three New Raymond Carver Stories Discovered
A article from 1999.

Two Interviews with Raymond Carver
Stories Don't Come Out of Thin Air conducted by Claude Grimal and I'm Sort of Their Father conducted by Silvia Del Pozzo.

Secondary Sources

Tess Gallagher and Raymond Carver, Soul Barnacles: On the Literature of a Relationship, 2000

Sam Halpert, Raymond Carver: an oral biography, 1995

Adam Meyer, Raymond Carver (Twayne's United States Authors Series, No 633), 1995

Kirk Nesset, The Stories of Raymond Carver : A Critical Study, 1995

Randolph Paul Runyon and Stephen Dobyns, Reading Raymond Carver, 1992

William L. Stull and Maureen P. Carroll, eds., Remembering Ray, 1993