Obituaries : Raymond Carver; Poet, Writer Who Overcame Despair, Alcohol

From Staff and Wire Reports

Raymond Carver, a poet and short story writer who overcame the twin demons of despair and drinking to become one of the nation’s leading chroniclers of working people, has died of lung cancer. He was 50.

“He died very nobly,” said his brother-in-law, Douglas Unger, a creative writing professor at Syracuse University. “He didn’t let on how bad his condition was.”

Carver, a heavy cigarette smoker, died at his home Tuesday of a disease that was diagnosed only after he completed his last short story collection, “Where I’m Calling From,” which contains 30 stories from previous collections and seven newer ones. He had undergone surgery last fall and subsequent radiation therapy.

Carver was noted for his revival of the sociological short story. His characters, who lived primarily in the Pacific Northwest, were, said one critic, “people (who) worry about whether their old cars will start, where unemployment or personal bankruptcy are present dangers, where a good time consists of smoking pot with the neighbors, with a little cream soda and M&M;'s on the side. . . .”

About the time Carver’s last book was issued this year by Atlantic Monthly Press, he was named to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in New York.


His first collection, “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” was published in 1967. It was selected for the anthology “Best American Short Stories” and nominated in 1977 for a National Book Award.

The 1960s was also the time Carver said he turned to liquor because of the demands on him to support a family and his passion to write.

(He had married and fathered two children before he was 20.)

Like his characters, he held a series of low-paying jobs, picking flowers, pumping gas and cleaning bathrooms.”

His books include “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (1981), “Cathedral” (1983), “Fires” (1983) and such poetry collections as “Where Water Comes Together With Other Water” (1984) and “Ultramarine” (1986).

A native of Clatskanie, Ore., Carver grew up in Yakima, Wash. He took a correspondence course in writing while in high school.

Carver moved to California in 1958, took an introductory fiction-writing course from the late author John Gardner and graduated from Humboldt State in 1963.

“He went 18 years . . . unrecognized by the literary world,” Unger said. “He despaired and went through a period of really hard drinking. He couldn’t take the discouragement.

“Then a miracle happened--he called it a miracle--that someone discovered his work.”

Carver once said he did not believe fiction had to bring about personal, moral or social change.

“It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it. Something that throws off these sparks--a persistent and steady glow, however dim.”

Carver taught writing at various schools and was an English professor at Syracuse University from 1980 to 1983. His wife, poet and short story writer Tess Gallagher, is on leave from her teaching job at Syracuse.

He also is survived by his mother, Ella Beatrice Carver, a daughter, Christine LaRae Carver, and a son, Vance Lindsay Carver.