Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

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.

Those words are inscribed on the tombstone of Raymond Carver, the starkly minimalist and massively influential author of stories about what people talk about, and what they don't talk about.

Less is more has been a credo since the turn of the 20th century but Carver went to extremes. Much of this was the influence of Esquire magazine editor Gordon Lish, who performed "surgical amputation and transplantation" on Carver's stories in what was perhaps the most important and influential author/editor relationship since Ezra Pound took a red pen to T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. Carver eventually broke with Lish and their relationship is being critically reevaluated. In 2009, thanks to efforts by his widow, the poet Tess Gallagher, his seminal What We Talk About When We Talk About Love was republished with the original drafts of the stories, often twice as long as the versions that were published by Lish, as Beginners.

A lifelong alcoholic, Carver said of his time with John Cheever Iowa Writers' Workshop that they did no writing, little teaching, and much drinking. Thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous, he quit drinking, which he thought would kill him, at age 40. When he learned he had lung cancer ten years later, he thought of that decade as a bonus and wrote a poem about it called "Gravy", which reads in part:
No other word will do. For that's what it was.Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman...

Carver died of lung cancer on August 2, 1988 at the age of 50.

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