I’d never written a biography when I began Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, so I set about researching the book by going to Yakima, Washington, the town where Carver grew up. That was almost twenty years ago.
I’d read somewhere about a Yakima newspaper editor who’d been in Carver’s high school class, and he gave me a list of people who might have known Ray. My several visits to Yakima were brief, but urgent. I didn’t want to miss any of the old Arkansawyers and sawmill workers who had known Carver’s parents, or any of Carver’s former schoolteachers. Some of his high school classmates, then in their sixties, were none too healthy themselves.
Like Carver, who died at the age of fifty in 1988, his friends had worked and partied hard. They were amazed by their old friend’s fame. And, like him, they were storytellers. Listening to and recording these people, I absorbed Carver’s childhood and youth. With their directions, I drove the country roads that Ray and his father had known in the 1940s and 1950s, and understood the loneliness and latent violence at the root of Carver’s famous short stories.