Raymond Carver Biography

At a Glance

Raymond Carver was a man of few words. Often characterized by an economy that bordered on austerity, Carver’s stories were short and plainly written, and his terse prose lent itself perfectly to his favorite subject: working-class America. Aside from poetry, which was written in the same no-frills style, Carver devoted himself exclusively to short stories. What really set Carver apart from other authors, however, was his exploration of the dark side of Americana. In the simple lives of small town folk, Carver uncovered the violence, rage, and loneliness lurking just beneath the surface. Like many writers, his posthumous reputation has grown exponentially, and it is impossible to imagine any serious study of the short story that does not include the extraordinary work of Raymond Carver.

Facts and Trivia

  • The alcoholism that figured prominently in Carver’s work was a sad reflection of his own battles with the disease.
  • Among Carver’s many influences was the author Anton Chekhov. One of Carver’s last stories, “Errand,” took place during the final hours of the Russian writer’s life.
  • The economy of Carver’s writing was not a purely aesthetic choice. He often worked day jobs and thus had less time to devote to his writing.
  • Carver’s low-key approach and focus on everyday life is evident in one of his most famous stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” which depicts a simple conversation between two couples.
  • Carver’s short story “So Much Water So Close to Home” has been adapted to film twice: first as one of many interlocking Carver tales in Robert Altman’s mosaic Short Cuts, and then as the 2006 film Jindabyne.
  • He was famously married to writer Tess Gallagher.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Raymond Carver was born on May 25, 1938, in the small town of Clatskanie in northwestern Oregon. Before he started school, his family moved to Yakima, Washington, where his father worked as a logger. Carver went to elementary school and high school there and spent his leisure time fishing and hunting. He once said that growing up in the rugged and rural Pacific Northwest made him want to be a “writer from the West.” He also once declared that the most important, although in many ways the most negative, influence on his early hopes to become a writer was the fact that he married and became a father before he was twenty. The pressures of supporting his young family made it almost impossible to find time to write.

Carver has said that he could not remember when he did not want to be a writer; he even took a correspondence course in writing when he was a teenager. He was never really interested in writing a novel but rather liked short stories—a form which he said best suited the circumstances of his life, for they could be finished in a few sittings. As a young man, his reading tastes were relatively unformed and undisciplined. He read Zane Grey Westerns, the science-fiction works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and such men’s magazines as True, Argosy, Sports Afield, and Outdoor Life—a masculine reading list which may partially account for the laconic, no-frills style of his short stories.

Carver moved his wife and two children to Northern California in 1958, where he registered as a student at Chico State College (now California State University, Chico). An important positive influence on his career while at Chico was his enrollment in a creative writing class taught by John Gardner, who was soon to make a name for himself as a writer. Carver was lavish in his praise for the help Gardner gave him, comparing him to the great maestros of the past who nurtured their apprentices. Because of Gardner, Carver began to think of writing as a high calling, something to be taken very seriously.

Carver transferred to California’s northern coastal college, Humboldt State, where he studied under short-story writer Richard Day and received his B.A. in...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

After years of neglect, the short story enjoyed a true renaissance in the 1980’s; Carver was arguably the most important figure in that revival. His understanding of the merits of the short-story form and his sensitivity to the situation of modern men and women caught in tenuous relationships and inexplicable separations has made him a spokesman for those who cannot articulate their own dilemmas. Although critics are divided over the relative merits of Carver’s early, bleak, experimental stories and his later, more conventional and morally optimistic stories, there is little disagreement that he is a modern master of the “much-in-little” nature of the short-story form.

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Raymond Carver grew up in a sparsely populated corner of the Pacific Northwest. This rustic environment had an indelible effect upon his character and writing. Like Ernest Hemingway, one of the writers who influenced him, he loved the purity and freedom of the American wilderness, and he also respected the simplicity, honesty, and directness of the men and women who earned meager and precarious livelihoods in that primitive setting. He married young and had two children to support by the time he was twenty. He had wanted to be a writer from the time he was in the third grade, but the responsibilities of parenthood made it extremely difficult for him to find time to write. His limited education forced him to take menial jobs for which he was temperamentally unsuited. He was unable to consider tackling anything as ambitious as a full-length novel, so he spent his odd free hours writing short stories and poetry. He managed to get some of his work published in little magazines, but these publications paid little or nothing for his work, so he was haunted by financial problems for much of his life.

One of the most important influences in Carver’s life was John Gardner (1933-1982), who taught creative writing at California State University at Chico and said, “You cannot be a great writer unless you feel greatly.” The idealistic Gardner introduced his students to the literary magazines that represented the cutting edge in contemporary American fiction and...

(The entire section is 542 words.)