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University of Iowa News Release


March 19, 2010

Sklenicka will read from Raymond Carver biography in Prairie Lights March 26

Carol Sklenicka will read from "Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life" at 7 p.m. Friday, March 26, in Prairie Lights Books at 15 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City. The free "Live from Prairie Lights" event will be streamed live and archived on the Writing University Web site,, at the University of Iowa.

Carver, who was a student and then a faculty member in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, was the most influential American short-story writer of the late 20th century. Two decades after his death, this definitive biography tells the detailed story of his legendary work.

His influence on a generation of writers and on the short story itself has been widely noted. Not so generally known are how Carver became a writer, how he suffered to achieve his art and how his troubled and remarkable personality affected those around him.

Sklenicka's meticulous biography recreates Carver's early years in Yakima, Washington, where he was the nervous, overweight son of a kindly, alcohol-dependent lumber mill worker.

By the time he was 19, he had married his high school sweetheart, Maryann Burk. From a basement apartment where they were raising their first child and expecting their second, they determined that Carver would become a writer. Sklenicka reveals the entwined histories of this passionate, volatile marriage and Carver's career.

She describes his entry into the literary world via "little magazines" and the Iowa Writers' Workshop; his publication by Esquire editor Gordon Lish and their ensuing relationship - the subject of recent controversy; his near-fatal alcoholism, which worsened even as he produced many of the enduringly popular stories collected in "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" and "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

The biography also depicts Carver's warmhearted friendships with scores of writers, including Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, John Gardner, Joy Williams, Al Young, William Kittredge, Leonard Michaels, Chuck Kinder and Hayden Carruth. Several of these relationships were forged during his time at the UI.

Sklenicka shows how his stories about unemployment, drinking, marital trauma, divorce, troubled children and suburban malaise, dubbed "minimalist" by critics, won readers with their precise and humane portrayal of ordinary lives.

She examines the dissolution of his first marriage and his partnership with poet Tess Gallagher, who helped him enjoy the full measure of his success. Ever grateful that he'd been able to renounce alcohol, Carver shunned pity and considered himself a "lucky man" as he faced death from lung cancer in 1988.

Sklenicka drew on hundreds of interviews with people who knew Carver, prodigious research in libraries and private collections and all of Carver's poems and stories for "Raymond Carver," which took 10 years to write.

Sklenicka's stories, essays and reviews have been published in South Atlantic Quarterly, Confrontation, Sou'wester and other periodicals.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

CONTACT: Jan Weissmiller, Winston Barclay, UI News Services, 319-430-1013,