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CRF Blog » Blog Archive » Interview of the Day: Raymond Carver

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Interview of the Day: Raymond Carver

by Bill Hayes

Wednesday, May 25, was the 73rd anniversary of the birth of Raymond Carver (1938–1988), the American writer of short stories and poetry. In 1983, Carver was interviewed by the Paris Review.

An except from that long interview:

INTERVIEWER: But what made you want to write?

CARVER: The only explanation I can give you is that my dad told me lots of stories about himself when he was a kid, and about his dad and his grandfather. His grandfather had fought in the Civil War. He fought for both sides! He was a turncoat. When the South began losing the war, he crossed over to the North and began fighting for the Union forces. My dad laughed when he told this story. He didn’t see anything wrong with it, and I guess I didn’t either. Anyway, my dad would tell me stories, anecdotes really, no moral to them, about tramping around in the woods, or else riding the rails and having to look out for railroad bulls. I loved his company and loved to listen to him tell me these stories. Once in a while he’d read something to me from what he was reading. Zane Grey westerns. These were the first real hardback books, outside of grade-school texts, and the Bible, that I’d ever seen. It wouldn’t happen very often, but now and again I’d see him lying on the bed of an evening and reading from Zane Grey. It seemed a very private act in a house and family that were not given to privacy. I realized that he had this private side to him, something I didn’t understand or know anything about, but something that found expression through this occasional reading. I was interested in that side of him and interested in the act itself. I’d ask him to read me what he was reading, and he’d oblige by just reading from wherever he happened to be in the book. After a while he’d say, “Junior, go do something else now.” Well, there were plenty of things to do. In those days, I went fishing in this creek that was not too far from our house. A little later, I started hunting ducks and geese and upland game. That’s what excited me in those days, hunting and fishing. That’s what made a dent in my emotional life, and that’s what I wanted to write about. My reading fare in those days, aside from an occasional historical novel or Mickey Spillane mystery, consisted of Sports Afield and Outdoor Life, and Field & Stream. I wrote a longish thing about the fish that got away, or the fish I caught, one or the other, and asked my mother if she would type it up for me. She couldn’t type, but she did go rent a typewriter, bless her heart, and between the two of us, we typed it up in some terrible fashion and sent it out. I remember there were two addresses on the masthead of the outdoors magazine; so we sent it to the office closest to us, to Boulder, Colorado, the circulation department. The piece came back, finally, but that was fine. It had gone out in the world, that manuscript—it had been places. Somebody had read it besides my mother, or so I hoped anyway. Then I saw an ad in Writer’s Digest. It was a photograph of a man, a successful author, obviously, testifying to something called the Palmer Institute of Authorship. That seemed like just the thing for me. There was a monthly payment plan involved. Twenty dollars down, ten or fifteen dollars a month for three years or thirty years, one of those things. There were weekly assignments with personal responses to the assignments. I stayed with it for a few months. Then, maybe I got bored; I stopped doing the work. My folks stopped making the payments. Pretty soon a letter arrived from the Palmer Institute telling me that if I paid them up in full, I could still get the certificate of completion. This seemed more than fair. Somehow I talked my folks into paying the rest of the money, and in due time I got the certificate and hung it up on my bedroom wall. But all through high school it was assumed that I’d graduate and go to work at the sawmill. For a long time I wanted to do the kind of work my dad did. He was going to ask his foreman at the mill to put me on after I graduated. So I worked at the mill for about six months. But I hated the work and knew from the first day I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I worked long enough to save the money for a car, buy some clothes, and so I could move out and get married. [more]